Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Two years later, flashback to Times Magazine interview with Bruce Ratner

Bruce Ratner doesn't talk much to the press--and when he does, he's protected--so it's worth another look at excerpts from his 6/26/05 New York Times Magazine interview conducted by Deborah Solomon, headlined Stadium, Anyone?.

Note that then-Public Editor Byron Calame criticized the Times for failing to disclose the parent company's business relationship with Ratner, but the Times never printed a note or a letter about the issue. Also note that the headline refers to a stadium, not an arena. They're not interchangeable.

Arena revenue

Q: How do you explain the sudden vogue for stadiums and arenas? So many teams want a new home -- the Mets in Queens, the Yankees in the Bronx, the Jets with their doomed project in Manhattan. And you're building a new arena for the Nets in Brooklyn.

A: It has to do with the economics of sports. The high salaries of athletes drive the whole thing, because it creates a need for revenue. In the case of the Nets, we need an arena that has suites and luxury seating, and where you can put up advertisements all over the place.


Ratner was being reasonably candid here, warning that the issue was maximizing revenue. He also could have said that the price of the team--the tail wagging the much larger Atlantic Yards dog--was a component. And he also could have explained that naming rights to the arena might pay much of its costs.

Brooklyn and hoops

Q: You and your fellow investors bought the Nets last August for $300 million. Have you always loved basketball?

A: I was never a basketball fan, but I wanted to bring a team to Brooklyn, a team that could be like the Brooklyn Dodgers. There's something intangible that a team contributes, something as intangible as a soul.

No team could be like the Brooklyn Dodgers, as agent Keith Glass and Brooklyn activist Scott Turner have observed. Fifty years later, professional athletes earn much more than their predecessors, and are far more divorced from the public. Sports franchises leave little dead air for contemplation; a game is one continuous marketing opportunity.

Real estate interests

Q: When did you get so spiritual? I would think the arena serves your interests as a real-estate developer and will boost the value of the apartments, condominiums and stores that make up your development in progress, the Atlantic Yards.

A: Not necessarily. Your friends who have bought brownstones in Park Slope and Fort Greene have inflated neighborhood values more than an arena would.

Here's where interviewer Solomon really missed the boat. While Ratner may be right that the arena itself may not do much for neighborhood values--who wants to live acrss the street?--but the arena certainly serves Ratner's interests as a developer.

Without the arena, he wouldn't have gotten public and political backing, including the exercise of eminent domain and override of city zoning, for the 16-tower development project involving what Chuck Ratner of Forest City Enterprises called "a great piece of real estate."

Nets social value?

Q: How would you define the social value of the Nets?

A: The players are terrific. They are of good character. They are incredibly charitable. They are family-oriented. They have integrity.

Ratner should have stuck with observing that they are excellent basketball players. Jason Kidd is far from a role model and Vince Carter is also going through a divorce.

The bottom line

Q: Well, you and your fellow investors did acquire a whole team. Was that a complicated process?

A: We were the highest bidder for the team. Like so many things in life, it was just a matter of money.

Enough said.

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