Arena costs us 100s of millions

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Just how much will a Brooklyn basketball arena cost New York City taxpayers?

If you ask developer Bruce Ratner, his 8 million-square-foot Atlantic Yards project — including soaring office and residential towers — is a privately funded project that will pay for itself in the tax revenue it generates.

And in a citywide poll the Brooklyn project received soaring approval for costing little while the public has slammed the proposed Jets football stadium for the westside of Manhattan that officials say will require $300 million each from the city and state.

But at the recent City Council hearing on the arena project, a Ratner executive estimated millions in taxpayer dollars would go to build the 21-acre development emanating from the intersection of Flatbush and Atlantic avenues.

Pressed by Manhattan Councilwoman Christine Quinn at the May 5 hearing about how much public money would be needed to build Atlantic Yards, Forest City Ratner Vice President James Stuckey was evasive, first saying only that it would be less than $1 billion and more than $10 million.

Pushed further by Quinn, who asked if the price tag would be in “the hundreds of millions,” Stuckey said, “I think that’s fair.”

Economic Development Corporation President Andrew Alper, who testified at the same hearing, endorsed the project but said he didn’t know yet how much the city was expected to contribute.

However, Alper did quote a $620 million price tag just on the arena, almost $200 million more than Ratner’s estimate of the cost.

Why the difference?

“The arena cost is $430 million and the other $200 million or so is infrastructure costs. But that’s part of the negotiations to determine how much city and state and other parties will pay for that,” said Michael Sherman, a spokesman for EDC, when asked this week about the discrepancy.

Sherman declined to comment on whether the $200 million represented the total public contribution to the project.

Councilman David Yassky, whose Downtown Brooklyn district is adjacent to the proposed development, pressed Alper at the hearing to provide numbers on the number of taxpayer dollars that would go into the project, balked about the “hundreds of millions” figure.

“That sounds a lot,” Yassky told The Brooklyn Papers this week.

“I want to hear the case as to what would justify that,” he said, adding, “I would like to see the arena happen. I think that as long as it is not a burden on taxpayers it is good for Brooklyn.

“I would like to see it happen without being a burden on taxpayers.”

“We don’t have an actual dollar amount because it has to be negotiated with the city and state,” said Ratner spokesman Joe DePlasco.
Ratner is also looking to use a percentage of the revenue from the arena to finance the entire project.

“We would also seek some infrastructure support that you would normally get when you do a development of this type,” DePlasco said.

In an economic study commissioned by Ratner, economist Andrew Zimbalist estimated public contribution at $187 million.

DePlasco said that number was taken from the news articles that had estimated infrastructure costs at $150 million and then inflated the number to make the estimate more conservative.

Ratner is looking to build the Atlantic Yards project over the Long Island Rail Road storage yards — for which he would have to pay the Metropolitan Transportation Authority for the air rights — and adjacent privately owned property, for which he has been negotiating with property owners faced with the threat of state condemnation if no deal can be achieved.

The plan includes condemning over two square blocks of privately owned land.

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