Skip to main content

Lawyers claim AY wasn't Ratner's idea, but the record says otherwise

While U.S. Magistrate Judge Robert M. Levy last Friday recommended that the Atlantic Yards eminent domain case be dismissed from federal court, he acknowledged that the lawsuit "raises serious and difficult questions regarding the exercise of eminent domain under emerging Supreme Court jurisprudence."

So, the case will ultimately be heard on its merits, either in federal court (if the plaintiffs prevail on Judge Nicholas Garaufis to override Levy's recommendation) or in state court.

Then a judge will have to evaluate the curious claim, made by lawyers for Forest City Ratner in legal papers and in oral argument, that the developer did not initiate the Atlantic Yards project.

Developer denial

During the 2/7/07 federal court hearing in the eminent domain case challenging the project, Forest City Ratner attorney Jeffrey Braun stated, "Certainly, one of the plaintiffs' contentions is that the fact that their complaint alleges that Forest City Ratner people initiated this project, all normal presumptions on public use issues are thrown out the window.
Now, we deny as a factual matter that that is what happened, but I think we have to accept it for purposes of the present motion."

As stated in the developer's memorandum of law supporting a motion to dismiss the case (p. 22, or p. 28 of PDF):
The complaint seeks to bolster plaintiffs' claims of favoritism by asserting that Forest City Ratner defendants initiated the project. However, even were the assertion to be true (which it is not), standing by itself it would not be enough to create a viable claim.

A narrow legalism?

The evidence suggests otherwise, unless the lawyers are narrowly defining the project initiation as Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz's exhortation to Bruce Ratner to buy the basketball Nets and move them to Brooklyn.

The issue is important, because, if the plaintiffs can't show that the developer initiated the project, their case crumbles. (They have to prove much more than that--that the benefits of the project are "pretextual" and dwarfed by the benefits to the developer.)

Augmented ambitions

Markowitz's entreaties, as the New Yorker's Rebecca Mead reported in 2005, merely set the stage for the 16 towers beyond the arena:
“He called every two to three weeks,” Ratner says. “I would make up little white lies, and I would wait a day or two to call him back. I am sure I said to my assistant, ‘Oh, my God, it’s Marty.’” Eventually, Ratner was convinced of the wisdom of the notion, but not before augmenting the Borough President’s ambitions with his own calculations—“the recognition that there is an opportunity to do what my business is, which is real estate and large-scale economic development.”
Thus the arena imagined by Markowitz became only part of a much larger development, which will stretch six blocks along the border of Prospect Heights.


"Not economically viable"

The day after the project was announced, the 12/11/03 New York Times quoted developer Bruce Ratner:
"This started with basketball, a Brooklyn sport," Mr. Ratner said. "This was always the site. But it became clear it was not economically viable without a real estate component. And Frank Gehry was the perfect architect for this site."

New York magazine's Chris Smith, in his Atlantic Yards cover story last August, quoted Deputy Mayor Dan Doctoroff as crediting the plan to Ratner:
“We did not require a lot of convincing as to the conceptual merits of Bruce’s plan,” Doctoroff says. “We’ve been involved in it from almost day one. I was advising Bruce on his purchase of the Nets. Clearly, he was going to use it as a centerpiece for a significant development over the yards. The mayor was always very intrigued by the design. He’s in favor of big statements. What you’ve got now is an opportunity to have an independent economy in Brooklyn.”
(Emphasis added)

Initiated by developer

Last March, Winston Von Engel of the Department of City Planning's Brooklyn Office, said at a hearing of Markowitz's Atlantic Yards committee that it certainly wasn't the city's idea. I reported an exchange between Kate Suisman, aide to Council Member Letitia James, and Von Engel:
"Just to be clear, this was a project that was initiated by the developer--is that right?" asked Suisman, whose boss is the leading public official opposed to Forest City Ratner's project.

"That's our understanding," Von Engel replied. (Well, Markowitz approached developer Bruce Ratner with the idea of bringing a basketball team to Brooklyn, and the developer recognized that a standalone arena wouldn't make economic sense.)

"Had the city been looking at making use of the land?" Suisman pressed on politely.

"Not that I can recall," Von Engel said.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Barclays Center/Levy Restaurants hit with suit charging discrimination on disability, race; supervisors said to use vicious slurs, pursue retaliation

The Daily News has an article today, Barclays Center hit with $5M suit claiming discrimination against disabled, while the New York Post headlined its article Barclays Center sued over taunting disabled employees.

While that's part of the lawsuit, more prominent are claims of racial discrimination and retaliation, with black employees claiming repeated abuse by white supervisors, preferential treatment toward Hispanic colleagues, and retaliation in response to complaints.

Two individual supervisors, for example, are charged with  referring to black employees as “black motherfucker,” “dumb black bitch,” “black monkey,” “piece of shit” and “nigger.”

Two have referred to an employee blind in one eye as “cyclops,” and “the one-eyed guy,” and an employee with a nose disorder as “the nose guy.”

There's been no official response yet though arena spokesman Barry Baum told the Daily News they, but take “allegations of this kind very seriously” and have "a zero tolerance policy for…

Behind the "empty railyards": 40 years of ATURA, Baruch's plan, and the city's diffidence

To supporters of Forest City Ratner's Atlantic Yards project, it's a long-awaited plan for long-overlooked land. "The Atlantic Yards area has been available for any developer in America for over 100 years,” declared Borough President Marty Markowitz at a 5/26/05 City Council hearing.

Charles Gargano, chairman of the Empire State Development Corporation, mused on 11/15/05 to WNYC's Brian Lehrer, “Isn’t it interesting that these railyards have sat for decades and decades and decades, and no one has done a thing about them.” Forest City Ratner spokesman Joe DePlasco, in a 12/19/04 New York Times article ("In a War of Words, One Has the Power to Wound") described the railyards as "an empty scar dividing the community."

But why exactly has the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s Vanderbilt Yard never been developed? Do public officials have some responsibility?

At a hearing yesterday of the Brooklyn Borough Board Atlantic Yards Committee, Kate Suisma…

Forest City acknowledges unspecified delays in Pacific Park, cites $300 million "impairment" in project value; what about affordable housing pledge?

Updated Monday Nov. 7 am: Note follow-up coverage of stock price drop and investor conference call and pending questions.

Pacific Park Brooklyn is seriously delayed, Forest City Realty Trust said yesterday in a news release, which further acknowledged that the project has caused a $300 million impairment, or write-down of the asset, as the expected revenues no longer exceed the carrying cost.

The Cleveland-based developer, parent of Brooklyn-based Forest City Ratner, which is a 30% investor in Pacific Park along with 70% partner/overseer Greenland USA, blamed the "significant impairment" on an oversupply of market-rate apartments, the uncertain fate of the 421-a tax break, and a continued increase in construction costs.

While the delay essentially confirms the obvious, given that two major buildings have not launched despite plans to do so, it raises significant questions about the future of the project, including:
if market-rate construction is delayed, will the affordable h…

Revising official figures, new report reveals Nets averaged just 11,622 home fans last season, Islanders drew 11,200 (and have option to leave in 2018)

The Brooklyn Nets drew an average of only 11,622 fans per home game in their most recent (and lousy) season, more than 23% below the announced official attendance figure, and little more than 65% of the Barclays Center's capacity.

The New York Islanders also drew some 19.4% below announced attendance, or 11,200 fans per home game.

The surprising numbers were disclosed in a consultant's report attached to the Preliminary Official Statement for the refinancing of some $462 million in tax-exempt bonds for the Barclays Center (plus another $20 million in taxable bonds). The refinancing should lower costs to Mikhail Prokhorov, owner of the arena operating company, by and average of $3.4 million a year through 2044 in paying off arena construction.

According to official figures, the Brooklyn Nets attendance averaged 17,187 in the debut season, 2012-13, 17,251 in 2013-14, 17,037 in 2014-15, and 15,125 in the most recent season, 2015-16. For hoops, the arena holds 17,732.

But official…

So, Forest City has some property subject to the future Gowanus rezoning

Writing yesterday, MAP: Who Owns All the Property Along the Gowanus Canal, DNAinfo's Leslie Albrecht lays out the positioning of various real estate players along the Gowanus Canal, a Superfund site:
As the city considers whether to rezone Gowanus and, perhaps, morph the gritty low-rise industrial area into a hot new neighborhood of residential towers (albeit at a fraction of the height of Manhattan's supertall buildings), DNAinfo reviewed property records along the canal to find out who stands to benefit most from the changes.
Investors have poured at least $440 million into buying land on the polluted waterway and more than a third of the properties have changed hands in the past decade, according to an examination of records for the nearly 130 properties along the 1.8-mile canal. While the single largest landowner is developer Property Markets Group, other landowners include Kushner Companies, Alloy Development, Two Trees, and Forest City New York.

Forest City's plans unc…

At 550 Vanderbilt, big chunk of apartments pitched to Chinese buyers as "international units"

One key to sales at the 550 Vanderbilt condo is the connection to China, thanks to Shanghai-based developer Greenland Holdings.

It's the parent of Greenland USA, which as part of Greenland Forest City Partners owns 70% of Pacific Park (except 461 Dean and the arena).

And sales in China may help explain how the developer was able to claim early momentum.
"Since 550 Vanderbilt launched pre-sales in June [2015], more than 80 residences have gone into contract, representing over 30% of the building’s 278 total residences," the developer said in a 9/25/15 press release announcing the opening of a sales gallery in Brooklyn. "The strong response from the marketplace indicates the high level of demand for well-designed new luxury homes in Brooklyn..."

Maybe. Or maybe it just meant a decent initial pipeline to Chinese buyers.

As lawyer Jay Neveloff, who represents Forest City, told the Real Deal in 2015, a project involving a Chinese firm "creates a huge market for…