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The sayings of Chairman Bruce, 2014, Part 2 (the outtakes): Nassau Coliseum, business stumbles

Yesterday, I wrote about an October 2014 public appearance by developer Bruce Ratner on Long Island, excerpted in several WCBS videos.

The full radio recording includes segments that weren't put on YouTube and offer some more revealing tidbits and contradictions concerning Nassau Coliseum plans and Ratner's career.

Talking about Nassau Coliseum, Ratner first says "it will be primarily a concert hall," then, at about 1:17, says it will have sports: "We will do a lot of college sports, we will have the Islanders six games a year, we will have an AHL team, exhibition games for the Nets."

Well, that was the plan and the promise, but there's no minor league hockey team coming nor any commitment to regular-season Islanders games.

Asked about the overall Coliseum site, at about 2:24, Ratner cites plans for retail, restaurants, and a movie theater. "Our partner is an excellent local developer, the Blumenfeld family... they're a tremendous help." Since then, however, Ratner's firm and the Blumenfeld Development Group have been embroiled in a lawsuit.

Ticket prices

At about 4:23, a self-described longtime Islanders fan asked a confrontational question. He suggested the team's move to Brooklyn would lose the fan base and urged Ratner to reconsider, "because in five years, this team will go to Saskatoon, or some other place." (That's discounting the anchor of the valuable local TV contract.)

"I think what you'll find is that it's going to be wonderful," Ratner said, adding that the Long Island Rail Road "stops right there." Also, he said, "we were able to do very very well when we moved the Nets." Then again, they lost a lot of the New Jersey fan base but reconstructed a new one in Brooklyn.

"My seats are going from $50 to $90," the questioner replied. "My commute's going from $10 to $40, for that many games, I can't afford it."

Ratner didn't have much of a response. "The problem in professional sports today, between the cost of the arena and the cost of players," he said, "necessitate higher ticket prices, I wish that weren't the case because I'm someone who believes everyone should be able to go to a game."

Business stumbles

Asked about his business career at about 16 minutes in, Ratner described some little-known (if at all) episodes where he stumbled. In 1992-93, when there was a recession in New York/US and very little business, Ratner said he considered "an opportunity to do housing in Israel," given the influx of Russian immigrants.

He "tried to step up," Ratner recalled, but "trying to do business in a foreign land, that is really hard." Beyond that, it was a "different kind of housing" and "different kind of economy. I was unfamiliar with any of that. I failed miserably."

Also, in 1999-2000, he recalled, "all the Internet stuff goes crazy, we're in the retail business, I think i'm smarter than anybody." So Ratner "spent a lot of my own money trying to put a digital retail company together," which became "a massive failure." He admitted that he "hired the wrong people, knew very little about the space."

"I always make the mistake--I think I know more than I know," he said. Well, Ratner can be self-deprecating, even to the point of humblebragging, but in this case it seemed like genuine chagrin.

His invention, once known as 3Dretail, incorporated on 7/9/99 and closed on 8/15/03, later became 4Dshopping.Com. (By the way, during that time, Amazon was hoovering up acquisitions.) Here's Ratner's patent:
The present invention solves the aforementioned problems by providing a system and method for enabling a consumer using a computer connected to an electronic network to view and purchase retail merchandise displayed in a multi- dimensional virtual environment that realistically simulates retail shopping.
In an aspect of the invention, an image representative of a retail store layout plan is generated and displayed to a consumer on the consumer's display device. The store layout image may include images representative of the shopping areas within the store as well as images representative of the product groupings associated with the shopping areas and of the individual products comprising the groupings. The consumer may simulate movement through the retail store by manipulating the store image - such as by zooming in or out and panning vertically and horizontally.
Business successes

Ratner's interviewer then asked him about his successes in Brooklyn, at about 17:33. Ratner recalled that, in the mid-1980s, his start-up couldn't compete syndicating to raise money to pursue Manhattan projects.

"Then when Brooklyn came along as an opportunity, mid-'80s to late '80s, I wound up partnering, for financial purposes, with a larger company called Forest City," he said, failing to mention that it was run by his extended family. "I knew I was not able to raise the money... I didn't have have the development expertise. This is a company that has both financial and development expertise. If I tried to do that myself, I would have failed."

He said that, while that sounded like a step out, he had backup. He went on to say that "the arena sounds like it's a step out, but our company had done so many things," having run an entertainment complex in Times Square and owned a sports team five or six years. Well, he'd run the team not so well.

At about 42:30, he was asked what he saw in Brooklyn. "There was something done in 1983 by the Regional Plan Association," Ratner recalled, which "said Downtown Brooklyn could be potentially be the third business district," given its transportation access, cultural institutions, government workers, and college students.

"I read [the report] in 1983... a guy named Richard Anderson, now at Building Congress, put it out," Ratner recalled. "I can't compete with the big guys [in Manhattan]. So, when a Brooklyn opportunity came up, I said, 'This is where I want to be, because this has huge growth.'"

"We did a project called MetroTech," he said. Polytechnic University put out a request for proposals (RFP), "there was only one developer that applied for that bid, RFP, that was our company, there was one other company, it was a construction company. So by default we got it."


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