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Ratner: Arena deal with state, MTA near

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Forest City Ratner is close to an agreement with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and the Empire State Development Corp. for development of the Atlantic Yards arena, office and housing development in Prospect Heights.

The memorandum of understanding (MOU) would establish the Empire State Development Corp. (ESDC) as the lead agency on the 24-acre development that would emanate from the intersection of Flatbush and Atlantic avenues and including a 19,000-seat basketball arena for developer Bruce Ratner’s recently purchased New Jersey Nets, and four soaring office towers and a residential complex that the Brooklyn developer and his partners would build.

Forest City Ratner spokesman Joe Deplasco confirmed the tripartite agreement, which he said should be signed in upcoming weeks, but said the details were “still being worked out.”

Prospect Heights Councilwoman Letitia James, an opponent of the $2.5 billion plan, is calling on the MTA — over whose Long Island Rail Road storage yards much of the development would be built — to solicit competitive bids for development of the site.

The 11 acres of LIRR rail yards run along Atlantic Avenue from Flatbush to Vanderbilt avenues.

The MTA declined to comment on how much the air rights to develop over the yards would cost.

“It’s really surprising that the MTA would sign on to a MOU in the absence of a competitive bid,” James said this week. “It goes against the notion of capitalism.”

Several developers also interested in the Atlantic Yards site have approached James, she said, noting that the pending agreement “smacks of favoritism.” The site abuts two of Ratner’s other developments, the soon-to-be-complete Atlantic Terminal mall and office complex and the ailing Atlantic Center mall. James has criticized Gov. George Pataki for having a friendly relationship with Ratner that dates back to their days attending Columbia University Law School together.

The arena plan would require condemning more than two square blocks of private property and displacing anywhere from 400 to 800 residents and businesses.

In a Feb. 26 letter to Prospect Heights state Sen. Velmanette Montgomery, ESDC Chairman Charles Gargano said the state had “not determined whether the project is viable or whether it is in the best interest of the State and City” and vowed to “solicit input from the community” before a decision is made.

“I don’t see how a memorandum of understanding could be finalized in light of this statement from Gargarno,” Montgomery shot back this week.

“That this is being done essentially in secret, is very troubling,” she said, adding, “They have not, in fact, made a determination of the viability or whether or not this is in the best interest of the community.”

At a tourism conference at the New York Marriott Brooklyn last month, Gargano declined to comment on the arena development, explaining the city was taking the lead on the project.

And this week, ESDC spokesman Chapin Fey, also declined to comment. “It’s still too early for us to be speaking about specifics of the Nets deal,” Fay said.

As early as last August, Ratner had asked city officials to sign a memorandum of understanding.

Ratner pulled back the curtain on the Atlantic Yards project in December and announced plans to purchase the Nets and move them to Brooklyn. He agreed to purchase the team from Yankee-Nets for $300 million the next month and must come up with the money by June.

Some residents this week said they were concerned about the potential agreement.

“We were told the lead agency wouldn’t be announced until after the NBA vote. And we’re worried about what agreements might be put forth in that memorandum,” said Daniel Goldstein, a resident at 636 Pacific St., a luxury apartment building that would face the wrecking ball if the plan goes through.

“That’s what we expected. It just means that things might be moving faster than we expected and faster than we told,” added Goldstein, who is also a member of Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn, a group of residents who are in opposition to the current arena plan.

Scott Bullock, a senior attorney for the Washington, D.C.-based Institute for Justice, a non-profit public interest law firm specializing in eminent domain issues, said MOUs are a common first step in moving towards a development agreement.

“The train is starting to the leave the station once the memorandum of understanding is signed,” Bullock said.


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