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CITY AGENCY TO PROBE RATNER PLANS - Brooklyn Paper

CITY AGENCY TO PROBE RATNER PLANS

The Independent Budget Office will conduct an economic study of Bruce
Ratner’s $2.5 billion Atlantic Yards development, the city-funded
fiscal watchdog agency announced this week.

Responding to requests from elected officials and opponents of the project,
which Ratner estimates will cost $2.5 billion to complete, the agency
agreed to undertake the study, but said it must receive detailed financial
information from Ratner’s company, Forest City Ratner, before it
can go ahead.

“We have decided that we will take a look at it, but we don’t
know what that means as far as scope and timing,” said Doug Turetsky,
a spokesman for the IBO.

The developer is expected to seek both city and state subsidies but has
not yet disclosed the scope of his request. While Mayor Michael Bloomberg
has pledged support for the project, it is still unclear how the city
intends to finance its contribution.

“Those are two very large open questions at the heart of what we
would typically look at,” said Turetsky.

Ratner is proposing to construct a 21-acre, arena, office tower and residential
village starting at the intersection of Atlantic and Flatbush avenues
and stretching six blocks into Prospect Heights.

The plan includes 17 buildings reaching as high as 620 feet. An initial
presentation of Ratner’s project included designs by renowned architect
Frank Gehry.

Opponents of the massive project have been urging the IBO to undertake
a study ever since Ratner released an economic analysis he commissioned.

“It is a victory,” said Prospect Heights Councilwoman Letitia
James, an ardent opponent of the arena. “But we were promised facts
at the city council hearing, we have yet to receive them. For the IBO
to do a full and complete analysis they would need all of the information.”

At a city council hearing on May 4, Andrew Alper, president of the Economic
Development Corporation, a city-run organization with the stated objective
of spurring business and industrial growth, praised the project, saying
the “benefits far outweigh the costs.”

Asked by several council members how much money the city expected to plunk
down, Alper said they were still working on the figures and would have
them in several weeks.

James sent letters to both the mayor and Speaker Gifford Miller last month
asking for an independent study on the arena after opponents released
their own study claiming the project could cost the city over $500 million.

The economic study on the arena commissioned by Ratner estimated the cost
to taxpayers at $449 million, although overall projected a net gain from
Atlantic Yards.

Last week, the IBO released an analysis of the proposed Hudson Yards development
plan on Manhattan’s West Side including a stadium for the National
Football League’s New York Jets, claiming the project posed significant
risks to the city budget.

The study was conducted after the Bloomberg administration was criticized
for relying on a report by Ernst & Young that was commissioned by
the team.

Economist Theresa Devine, who completed the Hudson Yards analysis, will
take the lead on the Atlantic Yards study, according to Turetsky.

“I think it’s wonderful that the IBO will take a serious look
at this,” said Patti Hagan, a spokeswoman for Develop Don’t
Destroy Brooklyn, “because maybe they can get some of the numbers
that we have thus far been unable to find.”

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