Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Victory lap: in Bloomberg interview, Ratner calls arena "whole big good," claims "we've done a huge amount" to placate neighborhood

Barclays Center developer Bruce Ratner, speaking yesterday with Tom Keene, Sara Eisen and Scarlet Fu on Bloomberg Television's "Surveillance," got the typical hero treatment from unskeptical business reporters.

Asked Keene, "What did you learn about NIMBY, not in my backyard?"

"Too much," responded a grinning Ratner. "When you live around a project and near a project of this size, it's likely that you will be opposed to it.... And it's understandable on one level. On the other, when you look at the whole big good, it's not understandable."

The "whole big good" that says the arena's a loser for the city, according to the Independent Budget Office?

Jay-Z chatter

There's a lot of debate, Keene said, about the rusted walls, the role of Jay-Z. He then asked about the famed minority owner of the Nets and the arena.

The relationship, Ratner said, is "very good. He comes to our board meetings... he's very good at marketing."

You're setting a new model, with a celebrity business partner, chimed in Fu, apparently having read the New York Times.

Cash-positive?

Keene asked "a basic amateur question: are you cash positive?"

"We will be, for the first year, cash positive, absolutely," Ratner replied. "On the arena. On the Nets, it'll be pretty much break even-plus this year. We won't be losing money this year on the Nets. Maybe in future years, as we digest some of our acquisitions, we will. And the arena's cash-positive, absolutely."

I'm not sure whom he means by "we." The majority owner of the Nets is Mikhail Prokhorov, so he will absorb the huge contracts inked this summer.

Neighborhood relations

"Two of our Bloomberg Surveillance crew live within the shadow of the Barclays Center, and they are thrilled," Keene continued. "How did you do this? Usually, if you're near new construction, you hate Bruce Ratner? What have you done? You're the big real estate mogul guy and all that--what have you done to mollify the neighborhood?"

First, I'm sure that those who are "thrilled" have not suffered the brunt of construction impacts; they may be happy because they can walk to an arena.

"Well, actually, the truth of it is," Ratner responded, 'we spent a lot of time, despite what some may say, we spent a lot of time with community groups, with community boards, with neighborhood groups, with churches, with everybody around, doing everything to make sure there was no dust where trucks came in, to washing trucks down, to making sure to keep noise down, to looking at traffic issues. We've done a huge amount. A lot of it doesn't get a lot of public attention, but we really have."

That's Orwellian, almost. See, for example, the local Community Boards' protest that Forest City overstated their participation in the Community Benefits Agreement.

As to the regular violations of construction protocols, please go to Atlantic Yards Watch.

Megaprojects in tough times

Keene asked about building a megaproject in tough economic times: "What is the hardest thing about just getting it through?"

"Well, first of all, we built the New York Times building right through 9/11... despite the fact there was likely not to be tenants... normally these project take five to ten years, you don't know where the economy is going to be. Basically, my philosophy is: if you think something's well-located, if you think it's a good project, you do it. And you weather the storm."

And negotiate subsidies and generous timeteables.

The Nets

"And you also need a basketball team," Keene said. "What do you need right now to make a better season."

"We've got a great team," Ratner responded. "I think we're really right in it... I don't think we need anything more."

Keene asked about the Knicks giving up Jeremy Lin. Ratner agreed it was a marketing blunder but said it was understandable, given the potential cost of his contract.

Prokhorov

Keene asked, "What does Bruce Ratner need from Mr. Prokhorov?"

"I need just what we have," Ratner said. "We have a great partnership. We do everything together. It's one of the best partnerships I've had in business. We have the same kind of values and culture. We work together great. It's actually a wonderful thing."

The same kind of values and culture? Prokhorov admits and shrugs off corrupt dealings, saying they were par for the course in post-Soviet Russia.

Back to happy talk

The interview closed with Keene's salute to the black-and-white Nets jerseys and Ratner's response: "Another Jay-Z design."

Not quite.

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