Atlantic Yards cost skyrockets; Opponents scream as Bloomy quietly doubles taxpayer subsidy

for The Brooklyn Paper
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The city has doubled its contribution to Bruce Ratner’s Atlantic Yards project — and Mayor Bloomberg admitted this week that there was no limit to how much the city could spend on “infrastructure improvements” in and around the developer’s 16-tower mini-city.

In 2005, city officials set aside $100 million for street widening, sewer expansions and other infrastructure, but when the mayor released the budget last week, the Atlantic Yards line item had ballooned to $205 million.

Opponents seized on the doubling as evidence that city taxpayers were again being asked to foot the bill for Ratner’s $4-billion project.

“There is a blank check in there for Ratner from the city,” warned Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn spokesman Daniel Goldstein. “Ratner [will make] millions of dollars off this development, so why is the city paying his costs also?”

At a press conference on Wednesday, Bloomberg attributed the higher allocation to the “rising cost of cement and steel.”

“We have a commitment to pay for infrastructure costs and we will meet that commitment,” the mayor said.

Hizzoner dismissed the notion that taxpayers would be stunned to hear that the city was spending more than it anticipated on Atlantic Yards and new stadiums for the Yankees and the Mets, both of which also received multi-million infusions last week.

“We are fundamentally where we thought we would be,” Bloomberg said.

The Atlantic Yards adjustment is the largest of the three hikes in funding. In total, capital funding for the three projects has risen to nearly $600 million — up from the $360 million initially promised.

The $205-million budget line was first reported by the Atlantic Yards Report.

A spokesman for the Mayor said the Yards cash would cover street widenings, sewer repairs and other infrastructural improvements, “several” of which would have been necessary no matter who was developing the Prospect Heights site.

A Bloomberg spokesman said the extra spending was a small price to pay for the largest development project in the history of Brooklyn.

“This project will create jobs, provide affordable housing and generate billions of dollars in tax revenue and represents a solid investment of taxpayer resources,” the spokesman said.

Unlike the city contribution, the tax revenue that Atlantic Yards is expected to generate has gone down. Over the summer, state officials said the project would generate $1.5 billion over 30 years. It is now projected to generate $944 million over the same time period — or just $15 million per year for the city and state, whose annual budgets are in the tens of billions.

The mayor’s budget must still be approved by the City Council. Several councilmembers said this week that they were surprised, and not happily, to see that public funding for the Prospect Heights Xanadu had increased.

But because members cannot reject allocations without voting against the entire $57-billion budget, it is unlikely that even the project’s fiercest opponent, Councilwoman Letitia James (D-Prospect Heights), will vote no on the budget.

“Hundreds of non-profit groups in my district will get much-needed funding in this year’s budget. Parks, schools and senior centers will receive money as well,” she said. “If I were to vote against approving the budget, I’d be voting against these groups, and not just Ratner.”

James said she is crafting a proposal that would restrict the money from being used to fund commercial construction on parts of the project site sized by eminent domain.

Of the $205 million set aside in the mayor’s proposed budget, $136 million is already earmarked for specific repairs. What will be done with the remainder is unclear, a Council staffer told The Brooklyn Paper.

The allocation’s “blank check” feel gave at least one outside observer pause.

“Construction costs are rising,” said Doug Turetsky, a spokesman for the city’s Independent Budget Office. “There is a lot of development going on. This will put pressure on the city’s ability to meet its capital commitments.”

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