Atlantic Yards will cost more to build and benefit the public less than Bruce Ratner said it would — and carry with it environmental impacts that can not be mitigated, a state analysis disclosed this week.
But the state’s development czar said the publicly subsidized mega-development would be worth the price because it advances the Manhattanization of Brooklyn.
“We are a city of skyscrapers,” said Charles Gargano, chairman of the Empire State Development Corporation, which released the project’s Draft Environmental Impact Statement on Tuesday. “We are a city of towers.”
Now, he says, it’s time the towers came to Brooklyn.
Gargano promised that if significant environmental impacts of the 16-skyscraper, 18,000-seat arena, residential, hotel, retail and office complex can’t be mitigated, the state “will respond.”
Coinciding with Tuesday’s release of the 2,000-page analysis, Gargano’s ESDC formally endorsed the project.
The action begins a 66-day period of public “review.”
Beyond the project’s size and scale, the DEIS revealed the fuzzy math behind Atlantic Yards.
Instead of generating $2.1 billion in tax revenue over the next 30 years, as Ratner promised in promotional materials and press releases, the plan certified Tuesday shows that the project would gross just over $1.9 billion — $1.1 billion for the state and $845.5 million for the city — over the next 40 years.
After subtracting $500 million in subsidies already committed by the state and city, the overall benefit to the public drops to $1.4 billion over those 40 years — $35 million a year split between the state and city.
“[The tax revenue shortfall] is big, it’s not a small difference,” said Evan Thies, a spokesman for City Councilman David Yassky (D–Brooklyn Heights).
Forest City Ratner Vice President Jim Stuckey downplayed the discrepancy in projected public benefit, calling the state’s calculations “conservative.”
In addition to the shrinking public benefit, the project’s costs are ballooning. Now Ratner’s project would cost at least $4.2 billion, up from an initial $2.5-billion pricetag, itself inflated to a more-recent $3.5-billion figure.
Stuckey said the cost of the decade-long construction project has jumped due to “a general increase in prices,” and an “incredible amount of design work” by Frank Gehry.
“Now we have a better idea of what the project will cost,” he said, adding that Ratner paid more than anticipated for homes, businesses and shops within the footprint.
Stuckey declined to reveal the company’s projected profits from the project.
Forest City Ratner has maintained that the project’s mammoth size — which the New York Observer reported Wednesday would be the most densely populated area in the United States — was necessary in order for the company to make a reasonable profit, provide affordable housing and build public space.
No members of the ESDC board raised any objections to the project’s vast scale or environmental impact before unanimously certifying the project plan and the DEIS on Tuesday.
But according to the DEIS, the project will bring a school’s worth of new children, thousands of new cars and significant noise to the residential streets closest to the project.
In addition, large segments of Fort Greene and Boerum Hill will be left in shadows, views of the historic Williamsburgh Savings Bank building will be lost, more than 600 residents of the site area will be forced to move, subways will be jam-packed, especially on game days (see sidebars, right).
When a reporter asked Gargano if the project could be scaled down to reduce effects on roads, infrastructure and local quality of life, yet still give Ratner a reasonable profit, he replied, “I don’t think it can be.”
“You aren’t going to get developers to build if they lose money,” said Gargano, a Park Slope native.
Gargano’s off-the-cuff response reflected the state’s comfort with the enormity of the project — which would occupy almost eight city blocks, would add 15,000 new residents to the area, and would include a building, Miss Brooklyn, that is 108-feet higher than the Williamsburgh, currently the borough’s tallest tower.
Opponents, predictably, said the pricetag was just too high.
“This is the most-expensive arena in the history of the country and clearly the negative impacts outweigh the benefits to the city and state,” said City Councilwoman Letitia James (D–Prospect Heights).
But the developer and his state allies still said the project would achieve its goals of both revitalizing an area they say is blighted, adding 2,250 affordable units to Brooklyn’s housing market, building seven acres of open space and returning a nifty profit for the builder.
“It’s an opportunity for people of all income levels” to make a home in an “underutilized” area, Gargano said.
“What is important is the public benefit and the fact that the [city and state] will receive $1.4 billion for its investment,” he said.
The City Council, Borough President Markowitz and state legislators all said they would do a new analysis — after already backing the project.
A spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno (R–Brunswick), who has supported the project, admitted this week that his boss hadn’t closely examined the project’s finances, but would do so in the future.
Bruno, along with Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D–Manhattan) and Governor Pataki, would be asked to approve the project following the pro forma 66-day public comment period that began on Tuesday.
©2006 Community News Group
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