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Build the arena — with fed money! - Brooklyn Paper

Build the arena — with fed money!

These may not be the best of times, but they need not be the worst.

With the country’s economy moving deeper into uncharted territory, those with level heads will have the best chance of surviving.

There are plenty of lessons to be learned from past downturns, but the coming months will be gist for a new textbook, as uncertainty immobilizes business people, investors and consumers. The resulting fear — an undesirable but logical response to this uncertainty — feeds on itself and compounds our shared dilemma.

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The bailout as structured by the House of Representatives appears to put its trust in politicians, whose backroom deals and fealty to special interests make them just as unlikely to act responsibly as the bankers and subprime real-estate promoters who got us into this mess.

Even before the Senate votes, pols everywhere are salivating over the spoils, and we can see where this is heading. Instead of utilizing the big surge in federal funds to fix infrastructure (on which future development can be built) and create jobs, they’ll seek to channel the cash to support an otherwise unsustainable status quo, immunizing bloated and inefficient public sector employee rosters from the economic realities assailing productive, tax-paying enterprises.

Politicians need to move beyond this impulse and retire, at least briefly, their political hats, donning instead a mantle of leadership.

In addition, the bill is packed with pork, whose meat is deemed totally kosher by those invited to the table, but whose ability to nourish the creation of jobs should be questioned case-by-case.

That said, what’s Brooklyn’s case?

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The mayor, first elected as a “non-politician,” is seeking a third term as the consummate politician. If he follows a traditional politician’s pre-election strategy of using cash to reinforce his base, bailout money will sustain and grow a public sector that should instead be trimmed in line with private sector cuts.

The mayor’s mission now is to lobby for as much pork as the city can digest, and then enlist the very people who have proven time and again that they know how to generate real growth: the entrepreneurs, the creative types, the developers.

Given the current realities, these are the people we trust will spend the money productively.

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The spirit of optimism that prevailed as Brooklyn boomed over the last 30 years is fading fast, the open wounds visible at every stalled construction site.

The word “depression” has more than one meaning.

Developers who are willing — and able — to pursue their projects off the government dole should be encouraged to do so and we should wish them well.

Those requiring government assistance should be offered a chance to bid for their hunk of pork. We should not reject offhand projects that might previously have been deemed unworthy.

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In the case of Atlantic Yards, for instance, critics might continue to argue over the larger project’s aesthetics and suitability for a site bridging Prospect Heights and Fort Greene, but complaints over several hundred million dollars in government subsidies are suddenly dated when a trillion dollars is sitting there for the taking. As long as Washington is doling out the gravy, Brooklyn needs to have its plate under the ladle.

The most problematic, oversized components of Bruce Ratner’s proposal for Atlantic Yards should not be built, no matter how much federal money is being thrown around. But it would be appropriate to use federal stimulus cash to jumpstart the part of the original Atlantic Yards plan that makes the most sense: the basketball arena at the intersection of Atlantic and Flatbush avenues.

Yes, The Brooklyn Paper has repeatedly argued that the financing scheme for the Nets arena was unfair to New York taxpayers. But if Washington money is channeled our way, that argument over subsidies to the project would be muted.

Bottom line: If we don’t get the money, Peoria will.

Just as we need to move past finger-pointing and blame-throwing in Washington and on Wall Street, we need to look forward in Brooklyn and remove vitriol from all sides of the Atlantic Yards discussion.

Constructing the arena and bringing the New Jersey Nets to Brooklyn would quickly create construction jobs, boost the commercial district along Flatbush Avenue, and restore the spirit of optimism that built Brooklyn.

Isn’t that what an economic stimulus package is supposed to do?

— Ed Weintrob, Publisher

Updated with minor changes, February 6, 2009 at 2:04 pm.

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