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May 3, 2011

Ratner's refute

Developer insists Atlantic Yards is moving forward

The Real Deal
by Adam Piore

The legend of Bruce Ratner, as told by Bruce Ratner. Cue violins.

For a developer who prides himself on building with a "social mission," the bruising battle to break ground on the mammoth Atlantic Yards project has not been easy -- to say the least.

Over the last eight years, Bruce Ratner has been repeatedly excoriated by community activists and Brownstone Brooklynites, attacked in the press, and called everything from a "liar" to a "serial eminent domain abuser and corporate welfare queen."

If you type the words "Bruce Ratner" and "scumbag" into Google, you get 567 hits.

It's a strange twist of fate for the affable, rumpled Cleveland native, who spent his summers at Columbia Law School working for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, and the rest of his 20s and 30s as a consumer advocate, defending the poor from the scams of small-time hucksters and corporate con men.

Without Bruce, there would be no Brooklyn as we know it today.

Kathryn Wylde, president and CEO of the Partnership for New York City, credited Ratner with "literally, over the course of almost two decades, dragging Brooklyn into the 21st century."

"When Bruce and Forest City made a commitment to Downtown Brooklyn, there were no other private investors interested," she said, noting that the new investment also brought funds for subways and other infrastructure.

Funds for subways and other infrastructure that the state of New York appears to be giving back.

There's an irony, [Wylde] noted, in that "the people who are now trying to close the door" on new development at the Atlantic Yards, and protect their turf, "wouldn't have anything worth much if it wasn't for Ratner's investments over the years."

"There was such an overwhelming sense in the '80s that Brooklyn was a classic area of urban decay," she said. "The local homeowners were battling high crime and the spread of blight, so I think there was appreciation of the importance of new investment. I think that the opposition to Atlantic Yards is in fact a function of a neighborhood that is gentrified thanks to decades of investment by Forest City."

Thank you, Bruce!

Of course, we have to have a dash of the Atlantic Yards creation myth...

But when [Marty Markowitz] suggested Ratner construct an arena on the vacant Atlantic rail yards, "[Bruce] saw something much greater than me. He saw a possibility of a major development that Brooklyn needed."

...with a little "vacant rail yard" myth thrown in for good measure.

Here's a better idea:

However, Council Member [Letitia] James -- one of the most vocal politicians in the fight against Ratner -- said in a statement that the site he controls is "too big and too important to be held hostage and kept barren for decades by the developer."

"Mr. Ratner," she said in a long statement her office sent in response to an interview request, "knew that he wanted those 22 acres cheap, and to get the land, he promised the world while maintaining the impression that he could deliver. Because of this, Mr. Ratner has already come back to the city and state for more taxpayer money, for a project that, when initiated in 2003, was proclaimed to be 'primarily privately funded.' I fully expect there will be future efforts to extract yet more public subsidy for Atlantic Yards."

She said the government should "take back the land" and divide it into "manageable parcels." She also demanded that officials initiate a "transparent, competitive bidding process to award the parcels to multiple developers, making it financially feasible in a way that Atlantic Yards is not and never was."

Here's a surprise (not):

Ratner estimates that the profits from the arena "are going to equal or surpass where I thought they would come out."

He estimated the arena will generate annual net income of about $110 million to $120 million, cost $30 million to operate, and require about $45 million to $50 million a year to pay off financing, leaving the company with about $35 million a year in profit -- which will generate a roughly 10 percent return on the $350 million invested by Forest City to build the stadium.

"That is pretty good out of the box," Ratner said. "It will increase as time goes on."

The Real Deal gives Bruce the last word:

Ratner insisted that the Atlantic Yards is back on track.

"This wound up being challenging in ways I did not expect, though I probably should have expected the opposition," Ratner said. "I know the housing is going to be incredible, and the arena will be the most beautiful in the country. Ultimately the truth will come out -- that this project will be very good for Brooklyn."

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NoLandGrab: If by "Brooklyn," Bruce Ratner means "Bruce Ratner," he may be right yet!

Posted by eric at May 3, 2011 12:14 PM