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May 29, 2006

James Stuckey: Building in Brooklyn

Forest City exec takes charge of Atlantic Yards construction; faces local opposition

Crain's NY Business
By Erik Engquist
Published on May 29, 2006

A profile of Forest City Ratner's President of the Atlantic Yards Development Group, Jim Stuckey, portrays the political mastermind as a developer who needs little sleep while simultaneously working out the details of "The Project that Ate Brooklyn" and pursing a masters in theology:

Every day, James Stuckey is awake for 20 hours, and he's busy for every one of them. As he tries to transform downtown Brooklyn, the executive vice president at Forest City Ratner Cos. has more on his plate than contestants at a Coney Island hot dog-eating competition.

Mr. Stuckey was named this month to run the real estate development company's newly created division devoted to building the controversial Atlantic Yards project. The technical complexities of creating a $3.5 billion residential-office-arena complex over an active rail yard are immense. The political, legal and financial uncertainties dogging the project are equally daunting.

"This embodies everything I've worked on in the last 30 years," he says from his 12th-floor office in MetroTech, a mile from the project site. "It's an incredible challenge."

His first mission is to steer past the media-savvy blog masters who have mounted a David-like effort to stop Atlantic Yards. They say the sprawling development will destroy the neighborhood. Mr. Stuckey, who was raised in a cramped Sunset Park apartment, where he shared a Castro convertible bed with his brother, appreciates the pluck of the Brooklynites battling Atlantic Yards. He still thinks they are wrong.

Respectful disagreement

"I completely understand and respectfully disagree," he says. His primary adversary, Daniel Goldstein, owns an apartment in a building Forest City plans to raze to make way for a basketball arena for the Nets. In a Forest City conference room, Mr. Stuckey identifies the building in a tacked-up aerial photograph. He notes that Forest City has bought every other unit in it. Condemnation by eminent domain and a lawsuit by Mr. Goldstein appear inevitable.

"He's very slick and comes across as if he's caring," Mr. Goldstein says of Mr. Stuckey. "But I think he's an absolutely cutthroat businessman." While opponents of Atlantic Yards portray Forest City as coldhearted and dollar-oriented, Mr. Stuckey says he joined the company for precisely the opposite reason. For the firm to undertake a project, "it had to have a public purpose," he says. Mr. Stuckey sees the development as appropriate growth where Brooklyn needs it--above the Atlantic Avenue train nexus.

The Staten Island resident, married 32 years and a father of three, doesn't fit the mold of ruthless real estate developer. He sits on the city's Arts Commission and formerly chaired the Center Against Domestic Violence. He is currently pursuing a master's in theology.

Growing up, the talented musician turned down a cello scholarship from Hofstra University, choosing to pursue bachelor's and master's degrees in psychology at St. John's University in Queens.

Developing interest

He was closing in on his doctorate when he switched careers. He worked on the South Street Seaport construction for the city and later caught the eye of Mayor Ed Koch, who made him president of the Public Development Corp.

His contacts will help him negotiate the political minefield faced by Atlantic Yards. The project needs approval from the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, Empire State Development Corp. and the Public Authorities Control Board, and relies informally on the support of Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

Even some of Mr. Stuckey's foes praise him. "He's really good at what he does," says Prospect Heights activist Schellie Hagan. "He plays the game very well."


Posted by lumi at May 29, 2006 8:49 PM