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SILENT PARTNERS • Brooklyn Paper

SILENT PARTNERS

So just who is buying the New Jersey Nets?

For the past seven months real estate mogul Bruce Ratner has been touting
his plans to purchase the team and move it to an 800,000-square-foot arena
in Prospect Heights.

At a press conference in December, rapper Jay-Z and Vincent Viola, chairman
of the New York Mercantile Exchange, stood beside Ratner and announced
they were also investors in the project.

The following month, Ratner reached a $300 million deal to purchase the
team.

But since then both co-investors have become relatively quiet as Ratner
continues to push ahead with his Atlantic Yards proposal, which also includes
17 commercial and residential towers.

Asked to divulge the other investors in the project, Beth Davidson, a
spokeswoman for Ratner, said, “We’re not going to discuss the
investors until the ownership is finalized and even then it will be at
the discretion of the investors.”

But opponents of the plan say it is their right to know, especially with
millions of public money expected to go into the project.

Ratner will only own a 10- to 15-percent interest in the team, according
to a Business Wire report from January.

Davidson declined to comment on that figure.

At a City Council hearing in February, Councilwoman Letitia James said
she asked Forest City Ratner Executive Vice President James Stuckey —
a former president of the city Economic Development Corporation —
to list the investors. He declined.

“Because public dollars are involved, the public has a right to full
disclosure on who the financiers are of this highly speculative and controversial
project,” said James, an ardent opponent of the plan.

Despite the nearly $500 million of public money expected to help fund
the project, both EDC and Empire State Development Corporation officials
say Ratner will not be required to name his investors.

Keeping the investors in a sports team anonymous is not uncommon, according
to David Carter, an expert in sports business and marketing and a professor
at the University of Southern California.

“It’s primarily a private transaction, so there’s no need
to disclose who the investors are,” said Carter, adding that over
time the minority investors usually make themselves known, especially
the individuals.

“Very seldom do individuals purchase a team and not want the public
to know. It puts you in an elite fraternity,” said Carter.
Patti Hagan, a spokeswoman for the anti-arena Prospect Heights Action
Coalition, said the community wanted to know who was eyeing her neighborhood.

“It bothers me not knowing who they are, part of the problem with
this whole Ratner scheme is that everything is going on behind closed
doors — we do not know who we’re dealing with,” Hagan said.

The $2.5 billion project includes a 19,000-seat arena, 4,500 apartments
and 2.1 million square feet of office and retail space. As part of the
plan Ratner would either buy out private owners or ask the state to use
its power of eminent domain to condemn 10 acres of privately-owned land.

The rest of the project would be built over MTA storage yards. Ratner
is currently trying to purchase the air rights to build over that land.

“It’s a confidential process,” said NBA spokesman Tim Frank
when asked if the league would be making public the names of investors
in the Nets.

“That is a team decision,” he said.

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