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September 17, 2009

Huge Atlantic Yards project wins crucial approval

State's Economic Development Corp. gives the project a thumbs up, even as critics of the downtown Brooklyn site vow to file more lawsuits.

Crain's NY Business
by Amanda Fung

"Wins" crucial approval? As if it was actually a contest? Coverage of today's decision has been light, since the outcome can hardly be considered "news."

Forest City Ratner Cos.’ modified plans for its massive Atlantic Yards project in Brooklyn won a critical approval Thursday from the Empire State Development Corp. The decision, which had been widely anticipated, is expected however to spark yet another round of lawsuits from groups that have opposed the project from the start.

No, the decision was universally anticipated.

The final approval by ESDC allows the developer to go ahead with assembling land for the site and proceed with the project. Just last week, Forest City unveiled its new plans for the design of an 18,000-seat sports arena, the future home to the Nets basketball team, which is the centerpiece of the Atlantic Yards project. The project will eventually include 16 mixed-use commercial and residential buildings, including affordable house and approximately eight acres of public open space.

“Today’s vote means that the Atlantic Yards project can move forward,” Mr. Ratner said, in a Thursday statement. “We now need to work aggressively to break ground by the end of the year. We look forward to achieving these goals.”


Additional coverage...

NY Observer, Once Again, State Approves Atlantic Yards; City May Pay Ratner for Infrastructure Work

Bruce Ratner today got to check off another box on his Atlantic Yards “To-Do Before the New Year” list.

The state’s development agency Thursday morning approved Mr. Ratner’s revised plan for his $4.9 billion Brooklyn project, giving New York's assent to the planned Nets arena as well as the surrounding 15 apartment towers nearly three years after the state's initial approval. (Changes were made to plans for phasing and the size of the arena amid the economic crisis.)

The O.K. now leaves one less loose end as Mr. Ratner scrambles to get financing before a Dec. 31 deadline imposed by the IRS. Still, opponents threatened more litigation as the agency, the Empire State Development Corporation, re-approved the project, and perhaps even more lawsuits loom as the state plans to approve about $700 million in tax-free financing for the arena.

Mr. Ratner’s Forest City Ratner appears to be rounding up as much cash as it can as the year closes, as the ESDC said it would speed up an outstanding $25 million in subsidy, loosening the restrictions on the money.

The city, which has another $15 million in subsidy not yet given to Forest City, would be allowed to do the same, according to the ESDC document, speeding up its payments by loosening restrictions. Further, in a footnote in a state document, it was revealed that the Bloomberg administration may simply pay Forest City Ratner to do infrastructure work that it had been planning to do itself, giving the developer the cash upfront in the coming weeks or months, an additional subsidy of sorts.

WNYC News Blog, Goodbye to Gehry

The original architect, Frank Gehry, wanted to build the arena and adjacent buildings all at the same time, smack up against each other, and have them share heating and ventilation systems. Now, since it’s unclear when those neighboring buildings will be built, the arena is designed to stand alone–for years if necessary.

The vote was 3-0. The Empire State Development board generally has eight members. But there are four vacancies now, and one member present, Kevin Corbett, abstained because his employer, AECOM, has done business with Ratner in the past.

Compared to three years ago, when the ESD approved an earlier version of Atlantic Yards, board members seemed a bit chastened by the economic crisis and by the relentless opposition that the project has encountered. Mark Hamister asked about a lawsuit that opponents had threatened because the revisions had not been subjected to a full-scale environmental review. Derrick Cephas asked what the likelihood was that the entire project–16 towers with about 6,000 apartments, a hotel and some office space–would ever get built.

Steven Matlin, the special counsel on the project, summarized a report by KPMG that concluded it was “not unreasonable” to assume the real estate market could absorb that much new housing over the next 10 years, as the developer and planners hope. “This could happen,” he said.

Then again, it could not. The Council of Brooklyn Neighborhoods commissioned its own report that found the full project will take at least 20 years to complete.

WNYC Radio, Final Approval of Revised Plan for Atlantic Yards

Brooklyn Daily Eagle, State Affirms Modified Atlantic Yards Plan

Forest City Ratner Chairman and CEO Bruce Ratner commented, “We greatly appreciate the Board’s support. The world has changed significantly since we announced the Atlantic Yards project in 2003. However, our commitment to the project, including the housing, the jobs and of course bringing the Nets to the Barclays Center, has remained steadfast even as the changing economic environment made this project more challenging, but also more important.”

Ratner explained as well that he planned to start the first residential building within six to nine months from the start of arena construction.

Timetables for the beginning of construction of the project have repeatedly been postponed during the past few years. The Council of Brooklyn Neighborhoods and Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn have repeatedly raised questions about whether Ratner can meet the announced 10-year project timetable.

The two organizations have also sought a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS). A representative of Councilman Bill de Blasio, now running for public advocate, also reportedly called for an SEIS.

Brownstoner, ESDC Approves Revised Plan for Atlantic Yards

The headline says it all.


For weeks, opponents of the Atlantic Yards plan have expected the ESDC to “rubber stamp” the project, despite the fact that the public comments period ended at the end of August without updated renderings being released and once renderings were released last week, they still lacked details of other aspects of the development outside of the Barclays Arena, where the Nets would play.

Curbed, Atlantic Yards Rubber-Stamped

Reuters, NY agency OKs modest basketball arena plan for Nets

Posted by eric at September 17, 2009 5:25 PM