In a twist that could be disastrous for Bruce Ratner, New York’s highest court surprised many and agreed to hear an appeal that the state has illegally used its power of eminent domain to spearhead the embattled $4.9-billion Atlantic Yards project.
Previous eminent domain cases have gone well for Ratner, but even if he wins this court battle — this time in the Court of Appeals — delays from this round of litigation means that he could lose the bigger war.
To qualify for tax-exempt financing that could save him millions, Ratner must begin construction by Dec. 31 on the Barclays Center, now a $772-million basketball arena no longer designed by Frank Gehry. Also on the line is the British bank’s agreement to pay $400 million to have its name on the Nets’ now-generic future home court, another deal that turns into a pumpkin at the end of this year.
The high court’s decision on Monday to hear the case from property owners in the Atlantic Yards footprint — who are seeking to prevent the Empire State Development Corporation from condemning their land and turning it over to Ratner — surprised many people, including Ratner himself.
In May, Ratner said after a unanimous lower court victory in the same case that “this is really the last hurdle, and now we can do what our company does best and build an arena and houses,” the Daily News reported.
On Tuesday, a spokesman for Ratner expressed confidence that Court of Appeals would also rule in favor of the developer, and said the company would “be in construction before the end of the year.”
The main Atlantic Yards opposition group, Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn, argues that the state Constitution prohibits the use of eminent domain for any project that includes luxury housing, though that argument did fail earlier this year.
“This case provides an opportunity for the Court to continue its proud tradition of interpreting this state’s Constitution in a manner that affords more protection to individual rights and liberties,” said plaintiffs’ lawyer Matthew Brinckerhoff.