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September 27, 2010

The Anti-Trump

Gary Barnett, the builder of this era’s glitziest buildings, does not have cotton-candy hair or a big mouth—but what he does have is hubris.

New York Magazine
by Gabriel Sherman

The anti-Trump? More like the anti-Ratner. NY Magazine's profile of developer Gary Barnett goes into a good deal of Atlantic Yards backstory — some of which gets "Oderized" in the comments section.

Barnett’s lone-wolf style has not exactly endeared him to his peers. New York real estate has long attracted players who view business as both a commercial and a civic pursuit. Jerry Speyer, the co-CEO of Tishman Speyer, is perhaps the most famous archetype of the New York macher, serving as a confidant to mayors and governors. Inside the fishbowl of New York real estate, Barnett has few friends. He’s a subject of fascination and derision, a combative figure who is unafraid to challenge the industry order. Since blasting onto the scene at the start of the last decade, he has clashed with Bruce Ratner and the New York Times for control of the land under the Times’ new Eighth Avenue headquarters and made a surprise eleventh-hour bid for Atlantic Yards just as Ratner thought the massive development project was in his grasp.

The bid was not for "Atlantic Yards," as Norman Oder explains in the comments section, but for the MTA's Vanderbilt Yard. And "civic pursuit?" That's true, if NY Magazine defines it as "pursuit of civic subsidies and eminent domain powers."

In 2001, Bruce Ratner and the New York Times were maneuvering to buy a plot of land on Eighth Avenue and 41st Street to develop the Times’ Renzo Piano–designed headquarters. Barnett, who owned a parking lot on the site, tried to organize surrounding landowners. “I said, ‘Let’s all join together and we’ll be in control of the site, and if the New York Times really wants it, they’ll pay us more,’ ” he told me.

The effort failed, and when the state seized his property in an eminent-domain ruling, he sued. “The litigation can go for a lifetime, as far as he’s concerned,” says Ault. “He will tell lawyers, ‘I got more money, I got more time, and I got more lawyers.’ ”

The judge in the case ruled against him, a decision that still rankles. “I don’t think that whole process was fair at all,” Barnett told me. “The market turns great and [the state] turns around and hands it over to another developer and the New York Times to make money on?”

Welcome to justice, New York-style.

In June 2005, shortly after he signed the record deal for Riverside South, Barnett summoned John Cetra, a Harvard-trained architect who was finishing work on the Orion, to his office. Barnett told Cetra he was thinking of making a bid for Atlantic Yards. Cetra was shocked by the idea. At the time, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority was in the process of negotiating with Bruce Ratner over the rights to transform the area over the Brooklyn rail yards into a Frank Gehry–­designed future scape. Ratner’s team of engineers had done years of planning and invested millions in the project. Bloomberg, and much of the city’s political Establishment, was behind Ratner’s bid, as well as his plans to bring the Nets to Brooklyn. Barnett was undaunted by the long-shot odds. “Gary said, ‘I want to go after this,’ ” Cetra recalled. “We worked around the clock on it.”

Barnett’s improbable bid stunned the real-estate world. He offered to pay the MTA $100 million more than Ratner, and in a nod to community opposition, his proposal called for just 4,800 occupants compared with Ratner’s plan to house 18,000. Barnett left the controversial Nets arena out of his bid and agreed not to condemn any blocks, two principal demands by community activists. Owing to their prior battle over the New York Times headquarters, the real-estate press jumped on the feud, portraying Barnett and Ratner as bitter rivals once again at war over prized development rights. Advisers in the Ratner camp certainly viewed it that way. “It was an effort to throw a wrench into the process, given what happened earlier,” one person close to the process told me. Barnett downplayed the whole matter when I brought it up. He told me he’s never met Ratner and insisted his bid was strictly about business.

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Posted by eric at September 27, 2010 9:25 AM