In friendly "Inside City Hall" interview with Errol Louis, Ratner predicts two years for construction of first tower, claims "we've already bought all the land"
"Thank you for joining us, and congratulations," Louis led off. While Louis did not aggressively cheerlead Atlantic Yards as when he was a columnist at the New York Daily News and Our Time Press, he offered not scrutiny but cocktail-party chatter, albeit chatter uninformed by even the New York Times's belatedly semi-tough profile of Ratner.
The one piece of news--maybe--regarded Ratner's casual mention that the first subsidized tower would take two years to build. Maybe he was aiming for misdirection, maybe not, but if his firm builds the first tower with modular technology, they'd aim to cut that time in half.
So they're either not building modular or not expecting the first building to move quickly--or, perhaps, Ratner was just speaking casually.
Ratner, never the most reliable narrator, also claimed "we've already bought all the land" for the housing, which, as I explain below, just isn't so.
And the main piece of insight at the end, when both Louis and Ratner gloated over the New York Times's treatment of Atlantic Yards opponent Daniel Goldstein.
"I don't want to dwell too much on the past, but: you had an idea about what this going to look like, and physically, it's quite different," Louis suggested. "But is the underlying idea what you had in mind?"
"Very, very much so," responded Ratner. "It's an arena. It was going to be a beautiful, beautiful arena, and a great addition to Brooklyn, whether it was the old design or this design, it is that."
Hold on. The arena was supposed to be nestled in four towers. Now the renderings show three, which don't exit yet. The office tower is forgotten.
Ratner then said it was going to draw from the whole borough, employ local people, and entertain people. OK. Movie theater don't get tax breaks and eminent domain for that.
Arena as venue
"I'm not nearly as much of a sports fan as I am a music fan," Louis said, observing that "This may come to be seen more as a music venue... I'm really struck by how many very high-level acts there are booked."
"I actually realized that some time ago," responded Ratner, "that the area would be as big as the basketball.. It turns out that we got very fortunate: one, the acoustics turned out to be excellent." (Neighbors even feel the bass!)
"It turned out that Brooklyn is looked at as a separate venue from Madison Square Garden," he said.
Ratner went on to say he'd "dreamed" about the arena serving people.
Louis asked about the booking. Ratner cited three bookers.
"I don't want to dwell too much on the past," Louis repeated. "You went through dozens of lawsuits." (No, not dozens. Less than a dozen.) "Is it your understanding that the law... has changed, or were you always in the right legally?"
"Eminent domain in this stated had never been seriously questioned on a constitutional level," responded Ratner. "Along came a U.S. case [Kelo v. New London] ... while we were in the middle of our approvals... 5-4.. the fact that it was a close case made every state look at eminent domain.... We kinda got caught in a situation where people began to look at eminent domain in a different way. What happened was, because the law was on our side... it wound up getting upheld... but what did happen the rules kinda, they didn't change, but they almost changed."
Actually, law professors across the ideological spectrum have slammed the Atlantic Yards eminent domain ruling.
Silver lining in timing
Louis asked if Ratner would have been exposed had the project moved faster.
"There's a silver lining to the delay," Ratner acknowledged. "Had we not gotten delayed, we would've opened up a giant arena in the middle of a recession... So what happened was... lawsuits cost a lot of money, but in terms of the market it probably helped."
Louis referenced "a promise for lots and lots of units of housing."
"We have a groundbreaking on December 18," Ratner responded. "That first building will be 50% low income and middle income."
On the Dean Street side, asked Louis. Ratner said yes.
Over what period of time?
"That'll take about two years to build, and then we'll start building our second building and our third building," responded Ratner. He didn't mention modular.
"People said we wouldn't build the arena," Ratner continued at about 6:30 in. That's one of his new mantras. (They were always going to build the arena. They needed a new home and identity for the money-losing Nets.)
"They're wrong about that. Now they're saying, we're not going to build the housing. Of course, we're going to build the housing, that's my business."'
Housing has been Ratner's business only in the past few years. Otherwise it's been office and retail space.
"Two, we've already bought all the land," he continued.
Not true. Ratner's renegotiated 2009 deal with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority gave his firm 22 years to pay the equivalent of $80 million (at a gentle 6.5% interest rate) for remaining railyard development rights. And there are still several buildings not owned by either his company nor condemned by the Empire State Development Corporation.
"It is going to be as important as the arena," Ratner declared of the housing. "In terms of the architecture, in terms of our ability to create community: think of Stuyvesant Town brought to today's era, in terms of the middle-income and lower."
"It's going to be a very special community," Ratner declared. "Frank Gehry designed the undulating skyline, and different architects will go ahead and do the housing."
That's interesting. The skyline wasn't so much undulating as the buildings, and if they build modular, it will be hard to get them to undulate. SHoP, which did the arena redesign (on top of the Ellerbe Becket plan) is supposed to do the first three buildings around the arena.
"People of course have their doubts. But the housing's going to start. It's going to be architecturally beautiful," Ratner continued. "I've been doing this for 25 years.. .you learn after a while how to build things that are architecturally beautiful... how to do things that create community."
Louis asked if "all of the affordability provisions" are in place.
Ratner said yes, citing regular city subsidies and federal tax-exempt financing.
Louis didn't bother to ask about how the developer tried to muscle the city or about the actual configuration of the building, with only nine units for low-income families.
Louis asked about jobs created.
"There are 1800 jobs at that arena, and they're union jobs, and they're great jobs," Ratner said, disregarding that he promised 2,000 jobs, 1,900 of them part time. But he stressed the 30,000 applications, with one-third of those hired from public housing.
(Actually, no. That was the permanent office jobs, which never came to fruition. Most would have been relocated rather than new, despite the promotional graphic at right.)
"Well, the 10,000 jobs was in the environmental impact statement," Ratner continued. "It includes people not only on the job... it includes all the offsite jobs related to construction... .. what they know, and they're not saying, it includes all the hundreds and hundreds of people that it took, to do everything to cut steel, to make steel. So, when calculating by the method in the Environmental Impact Statement, we've done I think a very very good job."
Actually, it's a little more complicated. The EIS did predict jobs regarding construction, but I've never heard people cite the predictions for just Phase 1. And the Socioeconomics chapter of the EIS (p. 4-89) does contain the chart below, which predicted 9,240 job-years from the arena and infrastructure.
But the arena was 25% larger, and it's highly doubtful those numbers were met. That would be a job for an independent authority, like the Independent Compliance Monitor Ratner was supposed to hire as a requirement of the Community Benefits Agreement.
The look of the building
Louis asked about the building's exterior: "Is that an illusion or is it rusted steel."
"I's called Cor-Ten steel," Ratner responded, using the brand name of a similar product. (This is a new process.) "That is... considered one of the most beautiful materials to work with... The reasons architects have not used it is because they have not been able to stop it from rusting... We came up with a methodology where we pre-rusted it for months at a time... Now that we were able to do that, I think you're going to see Cor-Ten steel used throughout the world... it has different colors, different textures... it has a lot of movement to it."
"I'll get used to it, I'm sure, at some point," Louis allowed.
A moment of gloat
"We're out of time," Louis said in closing, "but I've got to ask you real quickly: Your main legal antagonist in all of this, Daniel Goldstein.. took the $3 million you paid him to move away and build the arena... and recently been in the news for putting some extension on his house in Park Slope that caused two neighbors to move away... you have any advice for him for what happens when people start attacking your design plans?"
(Hold on: what about the nearly $280 million Ratner took from taxpayers, as well as the enormous amount of other government help? And the difference between as-of-right construction and state override of zoning?)
"I read the article," Ratner responded. "Look, he's persistent in what he did with us, and stuck with it. I don't have any comment, really. The article speaks for itself."
As does the photo the Times shot of Goldstein's extension.