It seems like there’s always been an Atlantic Yards project at the intersection of Atlantic and Flatbush avenues. It’s where Walter O’Malley wanted to move his Dodgers, but Robert Moses had other ideas. Moses wanted to build a baseball stadium in Queens and have the Dodgers go there. But, as everyone knows, instead of Flushing, O’Malley chose Los Angeles (and ignominy).
The Atlantic Yards site remained an under-developed rail yard for decades after that, though developer Bruce Ratner had his eye on it since at least the 1980s.
He had just built Metrotech, but shifted his attention to the Vanderbilt Yards. First he built the much-reviled Atlantic Center Mall across the street. Then he built the slightly better Atlantic Terminal Mall, with its busiest Target in the country.
In 2003, Ratner finally unveiled his plan for Atlantic Yards — a 16-skyscraper residential, hotel, office and commercial complex with a basketball arena at the core. His goal was to move his just-purchased New Jersey Nets to Brooklyn — a goal that earned him the uncritical support of most of the local elected officials even though some of the people they represent (especially some who were slated to be evicted) opposed it.
The project was approved in 2006, and for a few minutes, it looked like Ratner might actually meet his goal of having a Nets tip-off in Brooklyn by 2009.
Lawsuits followed, but whatever damage they did towards undermining Ratner’s ability to raise money to finance the project, the economy has done most of that job.
To cut costs, Ratner fired the project’s main calling card — architect Frank Gehry. Then, citing his own economic woes, the developer wrested more concessions from the state, allowing him more time to build — and more time to pay for the land on which he intends to do it. Earlier this year, he even sold 80 percent of the team to Russia’s wealthiest man, Mikhail Prokhorov.
It remains to be seen whether Ratner will get shovels in the ground before Dec. 31, his last chance to qualify for tax-exempt bonds to fund the project.
If he misses that deadline, the project could be dead.