Nets Are Scorching Interview – Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn

The latest round of reports regarding the Atlantic Yards development and the Nets potential move to Brooklyn has Nets owner Bruce Ratner needing project financing and a groundbreaking by December 31 in order to qualify for tax-exempt bond status and to keep the $400 million naming-rights deal with Barclays Bank for the arena.

Meanwhile, the non-profit group, Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn, one of the primary opponents of the development, will challenge the state’s use of eminent domain for the project at an October 14 hearing before the NY State Court of Appeals in Albany.

DDDB spokesman Daniel Goldstein recently took the time out to answer a few questions for Nets Are Scorching about the plan.

NAS: With the Court of Appeals hearing in October, and the December 31 deadline to finance and start construction of the Atlantic Yards development, it seems as it Bruce Ratner is in a race against the clock. With these hurdles still looming large, does DDDB see their own finish line as it pertains to fighting Ratner’s plans?

If the owners and tenants challenging New York State’s use of eminent domain to build Atlantic Yards, including the arena, win their case which will be argued in the state’s high court this October, they will be able to keep their homes and businesses, and the project as we know it cannot happen. To be clear to Nets fans, the arena cannot be built if these owners and tenants win their case. The plaintiffs, and Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn, are optimistic about this case.

Ratner needs the tax-exempt arena financing by the end of 2009 or the IRS will cut off access to about $150 million in tax-free benefits. And if he doesn’t break ground by the end of the year, Barclays can choose to walk away from its naming rights deal. Whether they will or not is an open question, but it is rather likely they’ll walk. Even without the lawsuit, it’s impossible for Ratner to break ground on the arena in 2009 – he won’t have the land, the financing, or the deals in place.

We believe very strongly that if Ratner does not meet those two deadlines, he can’t bring the Nets to Brooklyn. We do see a sort of finish line in the next four months, but if it is not the finish line, we will continue into 2010 until we defeat the project so we can move on and develop the community properly.

NAS: You have recently referred to the proposed development as a “phantom project.” Are you eagerly awaiting the new renderings Ratner has said would be released around Labor Day?

First, it is Alice in Wonderland behavior to hold hearings on a project that doesn’t exist, doesn’t have renderings or models. But that is exactly what New York State has done. Ratner has made it clear that he will not release new renderings until after the Empire State Development Corporation, which oversees the project, closes the public comment period on August 31st. We’ll have to see if the ESDC board gives rubberstamp approval to the project before or after it sees these renderings.

Would you buy season tickets without knowing where your seats are, what the arena looks like, whose on the roster, which teams are coming through town or even how much tickets will cost? That’s the deal Ratner’s been offering Brooklyn for nearly six years. It’s kind of insane.

How can Ratner put a price tag on the arena or the entire project, when he doesn’t even know what it looks like? And if he does know what it would look like, why doesn’t he show them to the rest of us? Presumably he won’t release the renderings prior to the close of the public comment period because he doesn’t want the public commenting, on the record, on his new designs and new plan and how it would impact the community. He did say the final arena architecture will be “beautiful.” That is hard to believe since nothing Ratner has built could be considered “beautiful.”

It is also telling that Ratner doesn’t say when, at all, he’ll release renderings for the rest of the phantom project – all that good-sounding “affordable housing” – mostly, it’s not.

Are we eagerly awaiting Ratner’s renderings? Not really. The architecture of the project has never been a primary issue for DDDB. Ratner may show some new design soon after Labor Day, but while models and renderings may shift, nothing will change that the Atlantic Yards project, from its inception, is a corrupt, undemocratic, sweetheart deal. It has already abused taxpayers and people Ratner wants to remove by eminent domain. It would forever scar Brooklyn if built. The housing promises will not come to fruition and the arena would be a financial loser for New York taxpayers. No amount of architectural revisions will change any of that.

NAS: Due to the financial losses the Nets are experiencing in New Jersey, there is a common belief amongst fans that Ratner would sell the team if his plan to move them to the Atlantic Yards development falls through. If this were to happen, do you think a new ownership group would revisit the idea of moving the Nets to Brooklyn?

If Atlantic Yards falls through, for whatever reason, and the arena is not built, Ratner will sell the team, and the Nets will not move to Brooklyn regardless of who owns them. It is highly unlikely that new owners would try to build an arena in Brooklyn either at the Atlantic Yards site or elsewhere.

Until the Atlantic Yards project collapses, though, Ratner could be trying to sell part or all of the team so he doesn’t lose the $150-$200 million the Nets have cost him the last five years. Nets fans who want to keep the team in Jersey should take that as a bad sign. The idea is that it would free up his finances to build the Brooklyn arena.

NAS: Is there a scenario where DDDB would support a new development in Brooklyn that would include a new home for the Nets?

Sure, but Atlantic Yards is not that scenario. And we would never support an arena somewhere else in Brooklyn unless Ratner sincerely worked with everyone in that community the way he never has in this one.

What Bruce Ratner has done to the Nets – turning an NBA Finals team into a lottery franchise – is what he’s done to the communities in and around the arena site. He’s trashed both. It’s better if Ratner sells the team to someone who gets basketball, and doesn’t just use the Nets as a bargaining chip for a luxury condominium development.

NAS: Newark Mayor Cory Booker has said on multiple occasions that he would like the Nets to stay in New Jersey and possibly move to the Prudential Center in Newark. Has your group or Mayor Booker ever reached out to each other to discuss this common ground you share?

No, but we are willing to talk to anyone. Talking never hurts. The Nets have this nomadic history – Teaneck, Commack, Uniondale, East Rutherford. They’ve never felt like they were “home.” Newark could be that home, finally.

NAS: What are your plans for October 14? Will you be able to be well represented in Albany?

On October 14 at the Court of Appeals in Albany, a great many of us from all across the state will gather for a press event and protest outside the Court. We expect that many people from Brooklyn, NYC and around the state will be at the argument to witness the historic case. Remember, the misuse and abuse of eminent domain can affect anyone who owns or rents a home, or owns or leases a business. That covers nearly everyone in the state, of course, and this case, Goldstein et al. v. Urban Development Corporation, is a great opportunity for the Court to return eminent domain back to its original meaning and intention—for public use, not the enrichment of a private real estate developer.

Posted by Mark Ginocchio