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don't destroy

BROOKLYN     Press Release Main Page

For Immediate Release: May 4, 2008

Ratner Spins a Yarn!

Bruce Ratner Continues Atlantic Yards Back Pedaling and
Damage Control on the Atlantic Yards Stall

Developer of Jeopardized Mega Project Spins Daily News Column

Says Nothing New

BROOKLYN, NY— The New York Daily News today gave Forest City Ratner CEO Bruce Ratner a column in its paper along with an article promoting and regurgitating his column. The article doesn’t include any context, countervailing evidence, questions for Ratner, or reaction from neutral parties, critics or opponents. Presumably that was part of the packaged exclusive.

Denied a forum for reaction by the paper’s preference for “exclusives” rather than solid reporting, we are here providing Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn’s (DDDB) point of view.

Bruce Ratner says nothing new in his opinion column.

He says nothing new to dispel the picture he painted when he was interviewed in a March 21 New York Times article—that his Atlantic Yards proposal has no committed or realistic timelines; has not secured key and substantial financing; is suffering the impact of the credit crisis, real estate market downturn and drastically increased construction costs; has no anchor tenant for its signature commercial tower and is having significant challenges finding one; faces vigorous community opposition and litigation. Without a demonstrated ability to finance his project, any goalpost-moving timelines are meaningless and should be dismissed accordingly.

Simply put, his project is in serious jeopardy no matter how he spins it.

The only new information in Mr. Ratner’s column is that he seems to be paving the way to announce a somewhat smaller project, a project with perhaps one fewer building in Phase 1 (four rather than five, in addition to the arena) and a reduction of Phase 1 housing units from around 2,000 to 1,500.

The column is part of a continued damage-control campaign the developer and his PR team have undertaken in defense of their floundering Atlantic Yards proposal. Yesterday’s Forest City Ratner orchestrated “counter rally” was part and parcel of the campaign, and we expect more to roll out. What we don’t expect to come is disclosure of more facts that the public and our elected officials need to know, facts absent from the developer’s column today.

Mr. Ratner still claims a ten-year construction timeline for his project with a completion date of 2018. He provides no evidence this can happen, and of course ignores a State Funding Agreement that gives him, after the close of all litigation and transfer of land, 6+ years to build the arena and 12+ years to build the five towers of Phase 1; further, the Funding Agreement specifies no timeline at all for the building of Phase 2—the bulk of the project and about 70% of its proposed "affordable housing” units.

Mr. Ratner ignores the fact that he does not own the land he needs to build his project. Some of it, including land where the arena itself is proposed, is in the hands of owners or tenants who are challenging New York State’s use of eminent domain to seize their properties to give to Ratner (that case is pending consideration by the US Supreme Court; should the Court choose not to take the case, those owners and tenants intend to bring their claims to New York State court), and owners who are not in court but still own their properties. Ratner doesn’t even own the 8-acre rail yard comprising about 35% of the proposal’s footprint—he has an agreement to buy it, but can’t close on that agreement unless there is a cessation

Mr. Ratner also fails to disclose, unsurprisingly, that his arena has ballooned in cost from $435 million when announced, to $637 million when approved, to its present whopping $950 million price tag– which would make it twice as expensive as any arena ever built anywhere in the world. And he hasn’t secured the tax-free bond for the arena.

Mr. Ratner fails to disclose how much his entire project is going to cost, though we know it must be much more than the $4 billion number that has been out there for years now. (and oddly, he fails to mentioned Frank Gehry; might that mean a dimished role for his architect?)

Mr. Ratner fails to disclose that the tax-free housing bonds he needs for his project are scarce at best and currently unavailable.

Mr. Ratner fails to disclose that his project is funded by $2 billion worth of direct and indirect subsidies, while he stands to make an estimated profit of about $1 billion.

Mr. Ratner also fails to disclose that his parent company's President Charles Ratner said they'll "need more" subsidies.

One other disclosure he does not make in the column, because it is the very reason not to trust what the column attempts, is that Bruce Ratner’s Metrotech project in Downtown Brooklyn was supposed to take 5 years to build. It took 14 years.

Everyone knows the Atlantic Yards project, if built, would take at least 15-20 years. The project's own landscape architect Laurie Olin said 20 years, friend of the real estate industry Kathryn Wylde of the Partnership for New York has said 15-20. And parent company Forest City Enterprises president Charles Ratner said it would take at least 15 years.

Even Downtown Brooklyn development planning Czar Joe Chan last week told the NY Observer: "The Atlantic Yards was always a project that was conceived as taking a few economic cycles to fully realize itself." That’s not ten years, as Ratner claims.

So when Bruce Ratner says in his column that he plans to complete the Atlantic Yards project in 2018, it's not credible.

We won’t go into a sentence-by-sentence analysis of the column, we’ll leave that to Atlantic Yards watchdog Norman Oder on his Atlantic Yards Report. But we must respond to two bald-faced statements by Ratner.

He writes:
Yes, it's true that construction hasn't happened as fast as we would have liked. Why is this? First, a rigorous public review, conducted in conjunction with the city, state, MTA, local community boards, elected officials and local leaders, took a long time. But this process helped refine the project and ensure a better plan for Brooklyn.

It may have been a lengthy environmental impact disclosure process with one circus of a public hearing, but it was not a “rigorous public review,” and it was shepherded by the unelected, unaccountable Empire State Development Corporation and Forest City Ratner with the red-carpet consent of the MTA, Mayor Bloomberg and Governor Pataki. Local community boards and elected officials (other than Albany’s “Three Men in a Room”) had nothing to do with the review or approval of the project, and had no input or vote. And the “process” led to no meaningful changes to the project; not even a traffic plan. Tellingly, project champion and former Deputy Mayor for Economic Development Dan Doctoroff said in retrospect that the project should have gone through the city’s rigorous and democratic Uniform Land Use Review Procedure, or ULURP.

Finally, Mr. Ratner repeats a figure concocted out of whole cloth, which he, his fellow corporate officers, and his publicity agents have been promoting over the past few months.

He writes:
We also had to overcome the hurdles presented in numerous court challenges. The opponents pledged early on to try to stop us cold in court, and they have thrown many obstacles our way. Fortunately, after 18 court decisions in our favor, they're now down to their last appeals.

This idea that there have been “18 court decisions” in Ratner’s favor is ludicrous and unsupported by the facts. And it also ignores decisions that went against him. Our tally, depending on how one defines “court decisions,” is either 10 decisions in the developer’s favor and 3 against, or 13 in the developer’s favor and 7 against.

Additionally, it is patently false that legal challenges are “down to their last appeal.” Just last week, a new lawsuit was filed by attorney George Locker on behalf of 13 rent-stabilized tenants. And should the eminent domain plaintiffs fail to gain justice in the federal court system, they intend to pursue their eminent domain claims in New York State court. The lawsuits still have a long time to play out; we know Mr. Ratner may not like that, but that is how the American legal system works.

Why have opponents brought their cases? The three cases DDDB has filed or helped organize were brought because we believe the claims are correct, and that they challenge unjust, illegal and unconstitutional procedures. And Mr. Ratner should understand that when democratic, legislative processes are bypassed, and a community is shut out from any involvement with its future development, residents will turn to the courts as their last place of refuge, and will pursue all the rights guaranteed them by the Constitution.

DEVELOP DON'T DESTROY BROOKLYN leads a broad-based community coalition
fighting for development that will unite our communities instead of dividing and destroying them.
DDDB is a 501c3 non-profit corporation supported by over 4,000 individual donors from the community.