The borough’s top elected official last week said the softening economy is all the more reason why Forest City Ratner Companies’ proposed Atlantic Yards project should get underway.
Borough President Marty Markowitz made his comments on the proposed $4 billion 22-acre arena/housing/commercial project at the Flatbush/Atlantic Avenue intersection following the collapse of the financial banking institution Lehman Brothers.
“The recent drop in the stock market and weakening of the American economy underscores the importance of moving ahead with projects like Atlantic Yards—which will not only create union jobs and affordable housing in Downtown Brooklyn, but also represents the kind of investment magnet that Brooklyn and New York City need right now,” said Markowitz.
“It is critical that in the next few years, we plan for Brooklyn and New York City’s future, and a catalyst for job creation and growth like Atlantic Yards can be the kind of economic engine that will power our borough through lean times,” he added.
When asked about the importance of getting the project underway as an economic engine, two elected officials representing the project area — Assemblymember Hakeem Jeffries and City Councilmember Letitia James, presented different views.
“It [the project] obviously is important for projects that will create jobs and housing for working- and middle-class folks to move forward in these difficult economic times. However, everyone is going to have to sacrifice as state government deals with a ballooning budget deficit and that includes multi-million-dollar development companies,” said Jeffries.
“My focus continues to be in making sure the developer’s commitment to building affordable housing remains firm and that the state government assists in making that commitment a reality,” he added.
James maintained that the FCRC plan is not the only one for the site that can stir economic growth.
“You can have both [economic development] and do a project consistent with the community wishes and also provide jobs,” said James. “It’s not an either/or proposition.”
James said she remains a supporter of the Unity Plan, which her office provided some funding to create. The plan calls for a smaller, mainly residential project over the Vanderbilt Yards without an arena.
James said there was no developer in place for the plan, but developers could be found through a competitive request for proposals [RFP] process.
“Had he [FCRC Chair and CEO Bruce Ratner] sat down and worked with us, we would not be in this position,” she said.
But longtime community activist James Caldwell, who is president of BUILD, one of the organizations that signed a community benefits agreement (CBA) with FCRC, maintains that the project – including the arena — is vital for the local economy.
“Even before the economy went down, people from our community were having a very tough time,” said Caldwell. “The CBA will play a beneficial role to helping our people get some of these positions stemming from the Atlantic Yards project,” said Caldwell.
Caldwell said many people in the area did not even know about the Unity Plan, let alone be behind it.
“It [Unity Plan] will not create as many jobs and it was minus an arena. All they had was architects that put together models and had no money lined up,” said Caldwell.
Caldwell said the proposed Barclay’s Center arena and the NBA’s Nets coming to the borough will create other businesses that will create jobs, which generally will go to people from the surrounding communities.
“I think that this is a huge project — even bigger than I had thought — because it would bring so much even for the people selling T-shirts and that kind of stuff, and will bring a lot tourists to the area,” said Caldwell.
Meanwhile, Forest City Ratner officials last week reiterated that the company remains steadfast that it can close on, get financing for and break ground on Atlantic Yards by year’s end.
“We’ve said for sometime that it’s obviously a tough market to build in, but FCRC has been very aggressive and successful in raising capital for projects, and remains completely confident about Atlantic Yards,” said FCRC spokesperson Joe DePlasco.
DePlasco said among the remaining obstacles are two more appeals to court cases to stop the project, and an expected United States Treasury Department ruling on whether tax-exempt bonds can be used to finance the $950 million Barclay’s Center Arena.
“It is a significant investment in Brooklyn and the city, and in an [economic] environment like this it is even more important,” said DePlasco.