Gehry Partners
The proposed $4.2-billion Atlantic Yards development, which would spread over 22 acres, would include a basketball arena, office towers and residential space, in addition to eight acres of open space.

Soon after New York state’s Public Authorities Control Board approved the $4.2-billion Atlantic Yards sports village, including an arena, housing and office space in Brooklyn, N.Y., the local developer, Forest City Ratner Cos. (FCRC) said it intends to further tweak the project to, among other things, reduce the height of the tallest building. The proposed office tower, dubbed Ms. Brooklyn, would then be no taller than the nearby 512-ft-tall Williamsburg Savings Bank building, currently Brooklyn’s tallest, says the developer.

There is some skepticism that the developer will deliver on its intentions, however, especially considering the long disclaimer following the list of possible initiatives, at the end of the company’s press release. The release was issued Dec. 20, after the development received the approval of the powerful state PACB, made up of Republican Gov. George A. Pataki (R), Democratic State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Republican Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno (R).

The state’s development arm, the Empire State Development Corp., had approved the megadevelopment’s master plan several weeks ago. The development is sited over the Metropolitan Transportation Authority rail yards. There is $100 million of support for the development from the city and $100 million from the state.

In a statement, Charles A. Gargano, ESDC chairman, said, “This is a great day for Brooklyn and the city. The Atlantic Yards project, designed by world-class architect Frank Gehry, will transform a largely underutilized and blighted area into one of the most spectacular and dynamic mixed-use communities in the nation. By creating thousands of jobs and providing an arena, commercial office space and much-needed affordable housing, Atlantic Yards will establish itself as a leading model for future economic development projects. And for the first time since the Dodgers’ departure to Los Angeles in 1957, Brooklyn will have a professional sports team – the Nets.”

Bruce Ratner, Forest City Ratner president and CEO and chairman of the National Basketball Association’s Nets basketball team, said, also in a statement: “We are very thankful to Governor Pataki, Speaker Silver and Senate Majority Leader Bruno for their support and today’s approval, and we are especially grateful for Mayor Bloomberg’s continued effort over the past three years to make this day possible. We’re excited about the prospect of bringing professional sports back to Brooklyn. And even more importantly, we’re excited about building a development that will include thousands of affordable and low-income units and that will create desperately needed jobs for the people of Brooklyn and New York.”

Plans for the 22-acre development, by architect Gehry Partners, Los Angeles, call for an 850,000-sq-ft arena; 247,000 sq ft of retail; a 165,000-sq-ft hotel; and 606,000 sq ft of office space. There would be more than 6,000 residential units. More than eight acres would be sited on a platform over Long Island Railroad storage yards.

The development has been controversial. Foes maintain it will “Manhattanize” Brooklyn, making the area congested and polluted. Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn’s Daniel Goldstein, the opposition leader, has said: “The Ratner plan misses the historic opportunity to knit Prospect Heights together to Fort Greene. Right now the rail yard is something of a trench; Ratner would replace that dividing trench, with a dividing wall of towers, and superblocks.

“The debate is around democratic process, eminent domain abuse, appropriate density, urban planning, severe environmental impacts, and raiding the public coffers for a project that would foremost serve to preserve Ratner’s profit which is likely to be at least one billion dollars,” Goldstein has said.

A federal lawsuit charging that the state is misusing its powers of eminent domain is pending. The suit, filed Oct. 26, alleges the unconstitutional use of eminent domain powers to clear the Atlantic Yards site of residents. Also named in the suit, in addition to the developer, are New York Gov. George Pataki and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

“We feel strongly that the use of eminent domain for Atlantic Yards is abusive,” said Goldstein, when filing the federal suit, along with nine other remaining property owners and residents.

Additional possible programs announced Dec. 20 by FCRC include: 1) A $3-million investment in existing area parks in addition to eight acres of open space within the Atlantic Yards project; 2) As part of the affordable housing program, FCRC has already agreed to build 600 to 1,000 affordable home ownership units on or off site. The company now says “it will seek” to build at least 200 of these units on site, as part of the proposed 6,430 units of housing already approved. FCRC will also seek to build the remaining affordable homeowner units as close to Atlantic Yards as possible. The Community Benefits Agreement already calls for half of the proposed 4,500 rental units to be affordable and low-income, all of them on site. 3) Forest City Ratner will also open a community affairs office on the project site that will be operated and staffed during all phases of the construction project.

FCRC will also work with the city, state and the United Federation of Teachers on the creation of a replacement Brooklyn Tech High School at a yet to be determined location.

The end of the FCRC press release contains a lengthy disclaimer: “Statements made in this news release that state the company or management’s intentions, hopes, beliefs, expectations or predictions of the future are forward-looking statements. It is important to note that the company’s actual results could differ materially from those projected in such forward-looking statements. Additional information concerning factors that could cause actual results to differ materially from those in the forward-looking statements include, but are not limited to, real estate development and investment risks, economic conditions in the company’s core markets, reliance on major tenants, the impact of terrorist acts, the company’s substantial leverage and the ability to service debt, guarantees under the Company’s credit facility, changes in interest rates, continued availability of tax-exempt government financing, the sustainability of substantial operations at the subsidiary level, significant geographic concentration, illiquidity of real estate investments, dependence on rental income from real property, conflicts of interest, competition, potential liability from syndicated properties, effects of uninsured loss, environmental liabilities, partnership risks, litigation risks, risks associated with an investment in a professional sports franchise, and other risk factors as disclosed from time to time in the company’s SEC filings, including, but not limited to, the company’s annual report on Form 10-K for the fiscal year ended January 31, 2006.”

The Nets are expected to move to Brooklyn in time for the start of the 2009-10 NBA season.