The news that Atlantic Yards developer Bruce Ratner has abandoned his plan to build most of the 16-skyscraper arena, office and residential project is no surprise to anyone who has been paying attention to this ongoing city- and state-subsidized debacle.
The project was always too big, too reliant on public subsidies and too much a betrayal of sound urban planning to ever be built.
Ratner now blames the souring of the economy as the reason for his failure to get Atlantic Yards done — but our current economic malaise is not entirely to blame; indeed, Ratner was unable to secure an anchor tenant for his Frank Gehry–designed Miss Brooklyn tower going back to 2003, when the economy was booming.
That failure is just one of many that Ratner admitted last week. In addition, he now says that the publicly financed basketball arena at the core of Atlantic Yards will cost $950 million, up from the original $435 million pricetag — making it the most expensive ever built by far.
Also, Ratner — who sold this project to a skeptical public on the promise of 2,250 units of affordable housing and seven acres of open space — now says he can’t build the 11 buildings where most of those units and all of that open space would be.
Is it any wonder that even Ratner’s supporters are appalled? The New York Times — which has covered Atlantic Yards with an uncritical ear to Ratner’s spin — this week used words like “pathetic” and “fiasco” to describe Ratner’s failures.
Even under the most kind interpretation of the latest turn of events, Bruce Ratner is only currently planning to build the basketball arena and two downsized residential buildings around it.
While we’ve supported the notion of a basketball arena at the corner of Atlantic and Flatbush avenues, the new cost estimates require a fresh evaluation of the state’s financing formula.
More important, we are troubled by new state documents that show that Ratner could leave the rest of the 22-acre site vacant for decades, thereby creating the urban blight that state officials said he would eliminate.
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The state must not let him. The state must take back the development rights over the rail yards and put them out for bid. Doing so would not only cleanse state officials of the Original Sin of Atlantic Yards (namely selling Ratner the air rights for $100 million less than their appraised value), but it would also set right Bruce Ratner’s very wrong project.
Undoubtedly, development rights are now worth even more to the cash-strapped Metropolitan Transportation Authority — and will be worth more still if the publicly financed basketball arena is built.
Only by seeking new developers can the public get a reasonable price for this valuable resource — and ensure that the area is developed properly and in a timely fashion.
Winning bidders would send their proposals through the city’s rigorous land-use review procedure rather than the notoriously weak state version that allowed Ratner’s monstrosity to proceed unchecked.
Save Atlantic Yards! Take the rail yards away from Ratner now.