Brooklyn’s biggest developer has pulled out of a controversial plan to build a shopping center that would include a Walmart-sized store on city owned land near Kings Plaza, killing the Flatbush Avenue project that was connected to Carl Kruger.
Forest City Ratner Companies is walking away from it’s plan to build a big-box retail outlet on the city-owned Four Sparrows Marsh next to the Toys ’R’ Us on Flatbush Avenue between Avenue U and the Gil Hodges Bridge, which the scandal-scarred state senator had been pushing the company to get done.
Insiders say Forest City Ratner Companies owner Bruce Ratner, who is currently building the controversial Atlantic Yards, the biggest development project in the borough, canned his plans for the Four Sparrows Marsh when he couldn’t find a suitable tenant.
“Forest City couldn’t find someone that would have been compatible with the property, fit in with what the community wants and still be profitable,” one source close to the project told this paper. “This project has dragged on for about 10 years, so they gave up.”
Other sources said Ratner didn’t want to deal with possible lawsuits from environmentalists who threatened to sue if he broke ground on the marshlands.
But there’s also the Kruger (D–Brighton Beach) connection: the project was named in the bribery indictment against Kruger, who prosecutors say pocketed nearly $1 million to promote the interests of deep-pocketed developers and lobbyists.
Investigators claim Kruger tried, unsuccessfully, to get Forest City to give a portion of the Four Sparrows project to developer Aaron Malinsky, one of the developers behind the stalled $750-million City Point project Downtown.
Malinsky, who was arrested with Kruger and has since been kicked off the City Point project, wanted to build a department store at Four Sparrows, and was funneling money into a dummy company run by Kruger’s alleged lover Michael Turano — the son of Community Board 18 district manager Dorothy Turano — to grease the wheels for him.
But Kruger’s links to Forest City Ratner Companies don’t end there. Prosecutors also:
• Arrested Richard Lipsky, a lobbyist hired by Forest City Ranter Companies, for giving more than $250,000 to Kruger. Forest City fired Lipsky after his arrest.
• Recorded Forest City Vice President Bruce Bender haggling with Kruger, who had already steered millions in taxpayer dollars to the $4-billion Atlantic Yards project, over money. Federal wiretaps revealed that Bender had asked Kruger to funnel $2 million to the Four Sparrows project, but ultimately settled for $500,000 for the Lakeside Center in Prospect Park. Forest City isn’t involved in the Lakeside Center project, but Bender’s wife is a member of the Prospect Park Alliance’s Board of Directors, and the couple lives in Park Slope.
Neither Bender nor Forest City Ratner Companies were named in Kruger’s indictment and were never accused of any wrongdoing.
Insiders say Kruger’s links to the Four Sparrows project may have made Ratner “feel uncomfortable” — but the mega-developer would have quickly put those feelings aside to make a profit.
“If there was money to be made, he would have developed the property,” said one source. “[Kruger’s involvement] would have been an unpleasant reminder, but it would have been acceptable enough to go forward.”
Kruger wasn’t mentioned in Forest City’s statement about why it abandoned the Four Sparrows project, which was first reported on an environmental blog.
“Forest City’s part of this project was small, and they are right now concentrating on a number of larger ones,” spokesman Joe DePlasco said.
Four Sparrows may not have been as large as Atlantic Yards, but it was far from small: before Ratner bowed out, the city was wrestling with two possible developments for the marsh: two buildings that would include a one-story structure the size of a football field and a two-story construction for multiple tenants, or a mammoth building the size of three football fields that could have easily fit a Walmart superstore.
Residents blasted the big-box selection last February, saying it would ultimately undercut neighborhood businesses.
Calls to Forest City for further comment were not returned. Kruger, whose trial is expected to begin in January, also did not return calls.
The gears are still turning on the city’s plan to sell the land on which the Toys ’R’ Us currently sits, officials said. The toy store emporium and Kristal Automall, the city’s largest minority-owned car dealership on Kings Highway in Canarsie, are expected to buy the property — which is more than the size of two football fields — for $17 million.
Community leaders say they aren’t too worried that the Four Sparrows development went south.
“I’m not upset,” said Councilman Lew Fidler (D–Marine Park). “I certainly have no problem with the preservation of green space when you can and [the sale of the land] will preserve jobs and put millions of dollars in the city’s treasury. It’s a win-win.”