$24M arena jackpot

Opponents of Bruce Ratner’s basketball arena and high-rise plan were
left singing “Heartbreak Hotel” this week as a competing developer
sold his interest in the Prospect Heights site to the Atlantic Yards developer.

Shaya Boymelgreen, who had been moving forward recently with plans to
develop a hotel that would have potentially thrown a monkey-wrench into
Ratner’s plan, abruptly agreed last Thursday to sell his properties
at 800 Pacific St. and 546 Vanderbilt Ave. to Ratner for $44 million.
Boymelgreen had purchased the property in August for $20 million.

The properties, one a former Pecter’s Bakery plant, fell within the
footprint of Ratner’s plans for a massive residential, commercial
and sports development, which the city and state have agreed to help finance
with $100 million each for development costs.

The two properties were to have been developed by Boymelgreen’s Leviev-Boymelgreen
company, into a large-scale hotel. Both parties agreed to the conditions
of the sale on March 31.

The move came as a shock to some residents of Prospect Heights, the neighborhood
in which Atlantic Yards would be built using the state’s power of
eminent domain condemnation of private property. Many anti-arena activists
were supportive of Boymelgreen’s hotel plans, which they saw as a
stumbling block in Ratner’s efforts to claim the area is blighted,
a condition that could trigger such condemnation.

“Maybe some people are not going to be happy, but I’m not the
one to block a big project that everybody wants to see going on,’”
Boymelgreen told the New York Times for its April 2 edition.

“I’m disappointed,” said Patti Hagan, a 26-year resident
who co-founded the Prospect Heights Action Coalition with her sister,
Schellie Hagan, to oppose the arena plans.

“I thought that he was a different developer who wanted to develop
under his own name,” Hagan said of Boymelgreen. “Twenty-million
dollars was a lot to spend on that land, and I was very hopeful that he
was going to do another adaptive reuse like he did for the Daily News
building, and keep our neighborhood our neighborhood — Prospect Heights.

“I also guess I thought he really cared about the community,”
Hagan said.

Forest City Ratner executives say they have made strides to show they
do care.

“I don’t think it’s fair that everybody criticizes Bruce
[Ratner] just for coming up with an idea,” said Bruce Bender, an
executive vice president for Forest City Ratner. Bender pointed out that
Ratner “does everything he can to avoid controversy” which is
why he was dealing with homeowners one-on-one.

Asked two weeks ago if Boymelgreen’s plans to build a hotel at 800
Pacific St. would affect Ratner’s ability to use eminent domain and
complete the arena project as proposed, Bender thought for a moment, and
surveyed the building, which at the time had a massive real estate sign
across the roof.

“I hope not,” he said during a walking tour of the Atlantic
Yards site. “I don’t think so. I think Shaya and Bruce have
a very good relationship. They’re both business people. They both
have an investment of the community.”

But, he added, “we’re going to improve it either way.”

Daniel Goldstein, a spokesman for the anti-Ratner arena group Develop—Don’t
Destroy Brooklyn, who lives in a condominium within the footprint of the
site, said Boymelgreen’s sale of the property to Ratner would not
deter the group’s mission.

“We still intend to show the public that [Ratner’s] got a sweetheart
deal from the city and the state,” Goldstein said. “What the
sale does go to show is what kind of profit Ratner expects to make.

“Because the value of the land there is worth so much to him,”
he said, the eminent domain condemnations might also be difficult.

“It also goes to show the MTA should be an open bidding process,”
said Goldstein, referring to the development rights over more than 10
acres of Metropolitan Transportation Authority rail yards that Ratner
needs to purchase in order to build Atlantic Yards.

Hagan said she was disappointed nonetheless.

“My ultimate thought is Shaya Boymelgreen is just another greedy
developer after all,” she said.