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RATNER GETS SITE With MTA’s blessing, Bruce leaves $10 million deposit on rail yards

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The cash-strapped Metropolitan Transportation Authority on Wednesday accepted developer Bruce Ratner’s $100 million bid for the development rights over 8.5 acres of train yards at the cusp of Downtown Brooklyn.

The Ratner bid was less than half the value of the real estate determined by an MTA appraiser, and $50 million less than a rival developer’s bid.

And Ratner — who seeks to build four soaring skyscrapers and 13 other high-rises as well as an arena for the New Jersey Nets basketball team on a platform over the property and on contiguous land — only has to come up with a $10 million down-payment. The balance of would be payable upon the project’s approval by state authorities.

An MTA appraisal that estimated the land to be worth $214.5 million was cast aside as the cash-strapped agency accepted the 10 percent down, roughly the cost of 10 subway cars or 20 city buses.

The bid by Ratner’s development company, Forest City Ratner, also offers to renovate the Atlantic Avenue subway terminal, build temporary and rebuild permanent rail yards due to the need to move the Vanderbilt Yards at Atlantic Avenue for the project, and construct a pedestrian passageway from the subway to the new arena.

The approval was voted 10-1 by the MTA Board of Directors, which is largely appointed by Gov. George Pataki, a law school classmate of Bruce Ratner.

The vote followed hours of public testimony at the Sept. 14 hearing in Manhattan, both for and against Ratner’s plan.

The only MTA board member to qutestion the deal at the hearing was Mitchell Pally, a Suffolk county appointee.

Pally said he was baffled that the board didn’t insist on getting more money, or arrange a deal whereby Ratner had to pay the full price up front. His comment led to a heated exchange with MTA Chairman Peter Kalikow.

“I’m not going to be subject to what an appraiser says. This is the deal on the table,” Kalikow shot back.

Pally also questioned why the MTA was making its own transaction contingent upon the actions of other state authorities.

“Why is the MTA making closing contingent on these other bodies?” asked Pally. “We don’t know when this sale will close. It could be two years, it could be five years, it could be 10 years,” he said, pointing out that the MTA faces incredible demands in their current capital budget.

Kalikow argued that Forest City Ratner would be spending its own money on a public railway that would be made state-of-the-art.

To that, Pally noted, “The MTA, alone, would never have built any modifications to the Atlantic Yards,” and said he’d looked at the 20-year projected needs assessment for the agency, which mentioned nothing about upgrading the Long Island Rail Road yards at Atlantic Avenue.

“[The rail yard] works fine the way it is. Forest City Ratner money is not being used to substitute for projects the LIRR wants to do,” Pally said. “We’re now going to spend money on projects we don’t want to do, never wanted to do and don’t need? It makes no sense.”

After the vote, Borough President Marty Markowitz issued a written statement in which he predicted that Atlantic Yards “will be something that everyone, even those who may now oppose it, ultimately will see the great benefit of.”

Opponents saw the MTA’s decision as a commitment to cronyism over improved transit services, and criticized the board for accepting what was decried as a “low-ball bid.”

“The MTA and Ratner have treated taxpayers with disdain and have ignored the desires of the community,” said Daniel Goldstein, a spokesman for Develop-Don’t Destroy Brooklyn, which opposes the Ratner project and its dependence on the potential use of eminent domain seizures of private property.

“We know Ratner stands to make a huge profit on this project, something on the order of $1 billion, yet he is determined to rip off the straphangers of by nickel-and-diming them,” he said.

At a July hearing, after Forest City Ratner made a $50 million bid that was trumped by a $150 million bid by Extell Development Company. Ratner doubled his price during exclusive negotiations with the MTA that did not allow participation by Extell.

In a statement Wednesday, Extell spokesman Bob Liff said, “Extell is disappointed that the MTA took the lower bid for the Vanderbilt Yards. Our bid still stands, and we hope the community is given an opportunity to fully participate in the process.”

Forest City Ratner officials did not return repeated calls for comment.

Bertha Lewis, executive director of the Alliance of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN), which is involved in the affordable housing component in the Ratner plan, celebrated the MTA decision. “It’s a win,” she said. “I love it.”

“[Pally] certainly put some thought into it and I think it’s great he did,” Lewis said. “But in the end, I’m very happy the board made the decision it did.”

A study released by the city’s Independent Budget Office last week determined the development plan for the arena to bring $1 million a year in revenues over 30 years.



Updated 4:00 pm, November 10, 2010
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