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HELLO DOLLY! - Brooklyn Paper

HELLO DOLLY!

Borough President Marty Markowitz announces his appointment of businesswoman Dolly Williams (above left) to the City Planning Commission in 2002. She now also owns a piece of Bruce Ratner’s Nets.

Dolly Williams, the borough’s City Planning commissioner and a key
player in Brooklyn’s development and land use review, is among the
lengthy list of investors real estate magnate Bruce Ratner has secretly
put together to purchase the New Jersey Nets.

According to a list of the Nets investors,
a copy of which was obtained by The Brooklyn Papers this week, Williams
and her husband, Adonijah Williams, owners of A. Williams Construction,
are both investors in the team Ratner hopes to bring to a new arena he
envisions at the corner of Flatbush and Atlantic avenues.

Williams was appointed to the 13-person commission in 2002 by Markowitz,
a vocal supporter of the Nets plan who, since he took office, has touted
the notion of bringing an NBA franchise to Brooklyn.

The commission, with appointees by the mayor, each borough president and
the public advocate, weighs in heavily on all development and land use
projects that are subject to city public review.

Sources confirmed that Williams’ stake in the team is nearly $1 million.
Ratner has consistently declined to divulge the identy of his partners.

Opponents of the Ratner plan this week condemned Williams’ interest
in the team as a potential conflict of interest and called it “deeply
troubling.”

“She needs to remove herself from any discussion of the project or
give up her interests in the team,” said Daniel Goldstein, a spokesman
for Develop-Don’t Destroy Brooklyn, a community group fighting the
project.

Contacted this week, Williams said she is an investor in both the team
and Ratner’s plan to build a new Nets arena, three soaring office
towers and 4,500 housing units extending from Downtown Brooklyn into Prospect
Heights. She said she “had not thought about” whether her company
would be involved in the 8 million square feet of construction.

“It is not a conflict, otherwise I would not do it,” said Williams,
a minor investor whose nearly 30-year-old construction company is worth
millions. She receives a $45,131 salary for her City Planning Commission
post.

Responding to the conflict of interest charge, Michael Kadish, a spokesman
for Markowitz said, “As with any planning commissioner, we would
expect that Dolly Williams would recuse herself from voting or discussing
any matter before the commission in which she has a commercial interest.”

While such a major city land use proposal would typically pass through
the commission as part of the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure [ULURP],
Ratner is looking to steer the 21-acre project, half of which would be
built over the state-run Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s
Long Island Rail Road storage yards, through a less stringent state review
instead.

His plan to build a Frank Gehry-designed arena surrounded by skyscrapers
at Flatbush and Atlantic avenues, would also require the condemnation
or sale of 10 acres of privately owned property.

Wayne Hawley, general counsel for the city’s Conflicts of Interest
Board, said he could not comment on whether Williams’ investment
constituted a conflict, saying only that the board “had issued nothing
public about any City Planning commissioner that may be an owner of the
Nets.”

Not surprisingly, the list of investors in what is expected to become
the NBA’s Brooklyn Nets starts off reading like the invitation list
to a Ratner family picnic.

There’s the principal owner of the team, mega real estate developer
Bruce, his brother, the noted constitutional rights leader, Michael Ratner,
and his daughter, Elizabeth Ratner, a reporter for the New York Observer,
among other Ratners.

Two prominent investors who had already announced their intent to buy
a piece of the team include Brooklyn-born rap star Jay-Z and New York
Mercantile Exchange Chairman Vincent Viola. While Jay-Z (aka Shawn Carter)
is on the list, Viola is not on the list, but many of his family members
are listed as trustees and beneficiaries in the ownership team.

Other noteworthy names on the investor list include Richard S. Rubin,
chairman of the Brooklyn Museum, mystery writer Mary Higgins Clark, and
Lyor Cohen, former head of Island/Def Jam Records who now heads Warner
Music Group.

The new investment team is made up of more than 80 entities including
nearly 200 individuals. Each entity contributed a minimum of $1 million,
according to sources close to the deal.

David Carter, a sports business consultant and professor at the University
of Southern California, said he was not surprised by the lengthy list
of investors.

“The price of franchises has gone sky high over the course of the
last decade making it virtually impossible for a single individual to
swallow the entire financial responsibility,” said Carter.

The new investment team also includes Community Youth Organization [CYO],
the former Nets ownership group, which signed on after Goldman Sachs investors
bailed out of the deal earlier this month leaving Ratner $60 million short.

The CYO is made up of more than 30 entities and 70 individuals including
former Tyco executive Dennis Kozlowski, who was accused of looting $600
million from that company.

But their investment in the team may be brief.

“Financial arrangements between CYO and Bruce Ratner is of a temporay
duration and made in order to get the deal closed,” said Edwin Stier,
president of CYO. “A substantial part of that interest is going to
be sold as soon as we can make arrangements.

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