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December 16, 2009

TISH JAMES PRESS RELEASE: Save student Metrocard program, crucial service, and MTA jobs — Cancel the Atlantic Yards sweetheart deal for Forest City Ratner!

(December 15, 2009) -- The Metropolitan Transportation Authority's latest doomsday budget cuts include a proposed cut of the student Metrocard program, which provides full and half fare Metrocards to over 550,000 students who commute to school each day. Also, numerous service cuts are proposed on routes where bus and train services are over-crowded, and waiting times are long. Lastly, severe layoffs and salary cuts within the MTA are proposed.

The MTA says these cuts will help alleviate a massive budget deficit and maintains that these proposed service cuts are for underused routes already serviced by other trains and/or buses. But, riders say they will be inconvenienced, especially because of the recent fare increase and reduction in service this year already. Some students have expressed expectations of having to choose between paying the Metrocard fare, or buying a meal for themselves. It is unacceptable that riders, specifically youth, who depend on the student Metrocard program for educational needs be subjected to unsafe walks, and/or possibly not being able to travel for classes at all.

An obvious questions for residents of Downtown Brooklyn then comes up - why is Forest City Ratner, the multi-million dollar developer of the Atlantic Yards project not paying upfront for what he has purchased from the MTA? If Bruce Ratner paid upfront what he owes to the MTA for use of the MTA's Vanderbilt Yards, then the doomsday budget cuts could be significantly reduced.

"Cancel the sweetheart deal for Forest City Ratner," said Council Member James. "Forest City Ratner should pay the $100 million owed now for the purchase of the Vanderbilt Yards. I also question why Forest City Ratner is not being made to pay the millions of dollars owed for the naming-rights deal upfront? And, had the MTA accepted a higher bidder, they would have received their funds upfront and their current budgetary gap could have been cut almost in half."

The MTA's deal with Forest City Ratner simply does not make sense. Many are questioning why the MTA, who is facing a potential budgetary gap of $615 million next year, and today faces a $343 million massive budgetary gap, is able to accept a $20 million payment towards a $100 million dollar property deal. This purchase and construction of the Atlantic Yards Development by Forest City Ratner was also given the option of spreading the balance of $80 million owed in payments over a 21 year period.

Community advocates suggest that another means of closing the budget gap would be for the MTA to do a new appraisal of the railyards valued at $271.5 million, and open up bids to other developers who would pay more of the cost upfront. Severe cutbacks in service, layoffs and especially cuts to the student Metrocard program appear unconscionable in light of the MTA's business agreement with Forest City Ratner.

Critics and opponents of Atlantic Yards have continued to argue that rival developer Extell, who submitted a bid that offered $150 million in cash, was a far better plan. For unclear reasons, the MTA board negotiated solely with Forest City Ratner. Extell head Gary Barnett in a December 2007 interview with the Observer said he was shocked that he bid $150 million, and Forest City Chairman Bruce Ratner bid $50 million, yet Ratner was offered the deal.

"Something simply doesn't sit right with the community about the preferential treatment that Forest City Chairman Bruce Ratner has received from the MTA. Now it appears as though MTA customers and specifically our youth - the future of the City - may pay dearly to support the project of a multi million dollar developer that the community doesn't want to begin with," said Council Member James.

Posted by eric at December 16, 2009 1:35 PM