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LIRR chief: Sweeter MTA deal for Ratner could get Yards back on track

Why is Bruce Ratner smiling? He just won a big Atlantic Yards case.

Atlantic Yards developer Bruce Ratner is poised to receive new, generous terms from the MTA that supporters say could jumpstart his stalled mega-project even as a new report revealed that the cit y would actually lose money on the basketball arena at the heart of the $4-billion housing and office complex.

Helena Williams, president of Long Island Rail Road and the interim executive director of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, told a state Senate committee last Friday that she’s in “intense negotiations” with Forest City Ratner to alter the deal to sell the Vanderbilt rail yards to the developer.

Ratner agreed to pay $100 million to acquire air rights to build over the trench between Atlantic Avenue and Pacific Street. But pleading hardship due to the global credit crunch, Ratner is looking to pay perhaps as little as $20 million up front and to spread the remainder out of over years.

And the MTA appears to be on board.

Williams told the state Senate Committee on Corporations, Authorities and Commissions at the hearing at the Pratt Institute that a revised deal is nearly inked. She hopes to present it for ratification to the MTA’s board at its June 24 meeting.

In other major news from the hearing, the city’s Independent Budget Office quietly unveiled a new analysis about the declining public benefit of Atlantic Yards.

Deputy Director George Sweeting told the committee, chaired by state Sen. Bill Perkins (D–Manhattan), that the city would now forgo $24 million in mortgage and sales tax exemptions granted to the increasingly costly, Frank Gehry–designed arena, roughly twice as much in tax breaks as the original estimate.

But that’s not all; Sweeting said that soaring public infrastructure costs — up from $101 million to $191 million now — has made the arena, which was originally slated to give the city a $25-million profit over 30 years, a loss.

“Ratner and the [state] continue to blame our opposition for their problems, but … they must learn from history and stop trying to prop up the zombie Atlantic Yards project,” said Daniel Goldstein, a spokesman for the principal opposition group, Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn. “It’s a debacle harming the public interest while draining public resources and energy.”

No one from Forest City Ratner appeared at the hearing, the Senate’s first investigation into the 22-acre development.

The company’s presence was felt in the form of 200 or so construction workers (and would-be construction workers) who showed their support — punctuated by frequently shouting down their opponents.

Forest City Ratner Vice President Bruce Bender later issued a statement that suggested that the hearing was pointless.

“It is time to get to work,” he said. “… Now is not the time for re-debating the project. It is time to get to work.”

Bender blamed lawsuits against the project for causing delays, but construction has mostly been retarded by the downturn in the economy, which has made financing his project difficult.

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