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December 30, 2010

A look back at 2010: definitive progress on arena, Prokhorov emergence, Chinese investors (!), same questions of accountability

Atlantic Yards Report

For those of you who haven't had internet access for the past year, who've been circumnavigating the globe in a skiff, or who just can't get enough news about Brooklyn's biggest boondoggle, Norman Oder looks back at Atlantic Yards, v.2010.

In a year less tumultuous than 2009 (retrospective), but not without its own significant drama and surprise, Atlantic Yards moved forward in 2010, with street closings, a much-ballyhooed ceremonial groundbreaking, the demolition of longstanding buildings on the arena block, and the indelible physical signs of an emerging basketball arena.

After final victories in condemnation court, the Empire State Development Corporation, at the behest of Forest City Ratner, was able to remove the remaining occupants of Phase 1 properties without any theatrics.

(Photo copyright Jonathan Barkey of protest at groundbreaking)

However, as I wrote in my 2009 retrospective, questions of accountability lingered, and those questions not only remained--as will a surface parking lot on the southeast block, Block 1129--they have merely grown.

A judge gave project opponents and critics their first, partial victory, ruling that the Empire State Development Corporation, in "what appears to be yet another failure of transparency," had failed to study the impacts of a 25-year buildout, rather than the officially approved ten-year timetable.

But the impact of that victory was muted when the ESDC, relying on ubiquitous consultant AKRF, produced the requisite report that, however questionable, declared that impacts of such a build-out would not be significant.

Forest City reached a controversial $3 million settlement with uber-opponent Daniel Goldstein, who, after having lost title to his apartment, was a tenant of the ESDC. While Goldstein "selling out" became a talking point for project proponents, far less attention to the speculators who made quick money on buildings like the one housing Freddy's Bar or Bruce Ratner's astonishing claim that the ten-year timeline "was never supposed to be the time we were supposed to build [the project] in."

As for Nets majority owner Mikhail Prokhorov, any skeletons in his closet were generally brushed away, in several mostly laudatory profiles occasioned by his American debut. As I wrote, money cleanses.

With the dropoff in legal action and the dormancy, though not quite demise, of Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn, the most obvious "news" regarding Atlantic Yards shifted to the Prokhorov debut and Forest City Ratner press releases regarding construction and plans for the arena.

However, with Atlantic Yards, controversy is never absent, and in the fall we learned of one answer to the lingering questions, as I noted a year ago, about the developer's capacity to fund the project. It's perhaps the most audacious attempt to leverage government help: the developer's effort to gain a no-cost (or low-cost) $249 million loan from immigrant investors via an obscure program that trades green cards for purportedly job-creating investments.

Click through for Oder's month-by-month recap.

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Posted by eric at December 30, 2010 9:25 AM