Sunday, July 26, 2009

The Newark solution? Optimism from Star-Ledger columnist seems a bit overblown

Star-Ledger sports columnist Steve Politi published two pieces on Friday about the possibility of a Nets move to Newark, not Brooklyn.

However, that move, while it makes sense logistically from a regional perspective--the Prudential Center in Newark is already built, and underutilized, while the Atlantic Yards arena is yet unbuilt--remains a stretch until and unless the plans for AY are further undermined.

The Newark move also makes sense from a federal perspective; Forest City Ratner would save well over $100 million, mostly from federal taxpayers, thanks to the issuance of tax-exempt bonds. But the Treasury Department grandfathered in the plan for bonds.

Booker's take

In an article headlined Newark mayor Cory Booker not surprised by reports that NJ Nets are for sale, Politi wrote:
Newark mayor Cory Booker wasn't the least bit surprised at reports that the Nets are for sale -- he predicted that would happen months ago. What did surprise and disappoint him was hearing that the team was only looking at potential investors interested in moving it to Brooklyn.

"I have said from the beginning of this that the endeavor in Brooklyn is under a lot of challenges now, and I've said for months that the team is going to go up for sale," Booker said Friday at a musical festival in Newark.

"I'm discouraged a little bit that they're saying they're only going to sell to people who are going to stay in Brooklyn, but the reality is, we're going to do everything we possibly can to make sure that team stays in New Jersey. We need the revenue, we need the business opportunities. It really can become an economic engine for our state at a time when we need it."

Booker has said that he was putting together a team of investors who could purchase the Nets and move them to the Prudential Center in Newark, but he has not had direct talks with team owner Bruce Ratner.


Booker shouldn't be surprised that Ratner wants investors to join the Brooklyn plan. If Ratner simply sells the team to Newark-bound owners, he loses much of the benefit of his investment in the AY plan.

I'll point out, for the record, that the issue of a potential move to Newark did not come up Thursday night during the monthly WBGO radio show Newark Today with Cory Booker. Then again, the show, which included Newark's police director, focused on law enforcement issues.

The interview in Brooklyn

In a commentary headlined Politi: NJ Nets owner Bruce Ratner knows damage, not damage control, Politi wrote:
Bruce Ratner inherited a championship team and gutted it. He stumbled into a growing fan base and alienated it. Now, for his final act, he is seeking anyone rich and dumb enough to help him rip the Nets from this community.

Congratulations, Bruce. You make the Secaucus Seven look like the Rooney family.

The real estate magnate, as first reported in The Star-Ledger, is desperately trying to sell his crumbling vision for Brooklyn to a reclusive billionaire, a Russian businessman and his co-investors. But at some point, don't you think they'll ask what, exactly, that vision is?

There is no blueprint for his arena. There is no world-class architect designing the complex. There is no financing in place for the project, and there is still the messy matter of the Court of Appeals hearing that, if lost, would sabotage the entire Atlantic Yards deal once and for all.

Other than that, it's a great investment.


Yes, but many of things can change.

Chances of defeat

Politi went to visit Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn's Daniel Goldstein who gave a contradictory quote:
"I think we have an excellent shot of defeating the project," he said. "Am I confident? It changes day to day."

I'm not so sure Ratner's seeming desperate search for investors in a down economy is reason for Atlantic Yards opponents to feel confidence, as Politi suggests. 

Yes, Ratner is dismantling the Nets, from roster to front-office, and has lost the confidence of many fans. But I think he's just stretching as far as possible, and aims to regroup if and when the Nets move to Brooklyn.

And I don't know if I'd call opponents chances "excellent"? They're not insubstantial and there are a lot of question marks, but the city and state remain firmly behind the plan.

Newark solution?

Politi writes:
It has never made more sense than now to move the Nets to the Prudential Center. If Ratner really needs relief from his mounting debt, he should look down Route 21.

It just doesn't work that way. If Ratner were merely an ill-fated team owner, yes, a sale and a move to Newark would be a no-brainer. But he and his parent company have invested a lot of money--they claim $500 million--in AY, and they're not going to give that up easily.

The move to Brooklyn, even with a lowered market for luxury boxes and a decimated team, has much more upside for Ratner. And if there's no team, there's no Atlantic Yards project.

The only way the Nets will move to Newark is if the project called Atlantic Yards dies.

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