Fans For Fair Play
Challenging Bruce Ratner’s Brooklyn Atlantic Yards project

Monday, June 14, 2004

A Vote That Hits Close To Home 

These are crucial days.

How many times do you hear that on a daily basis? Crucial days for America, crucial days in the war on terror, crucial days for the Lakers dynasty, crucial days for the Olson twins.

But really, these are crucial days...at least as far as the fight against Bruce Ratner's misconceived arena project in Brooklyn.

Sometime in the next several days, the National Basketball Association will take a vote. A vote among it's most gentrified class...it's roster of owners. The owners will vote, by conference call, on whether to permit the NBA to officially sanction the sale of the New Jersey Nets to Bruce Ratner.

It's hard to imagine them saying no.

The sale price is $300 million -- a ridiculously inflated price that current NBA owners hope will signal a huge windfall when they get around to selling their teams...the sale's predicated on a sweetheart deal the city and state of New York are handing giftwrapped to Ratner...the NBA would love to see a Knicks/Nets rivalry that they hope will harken back to the days of the Dodgers, Giants and Yankees in the supercharged New York sports environs of the 1950s.

But there are problems for Bruce, the NBA and their big payday. Ratner has not yet arranged for all the financing he needs. That would be:

Purchase price: $300 million
Debt coverage: $20-40 million for the next five years (required by the NBA)
Non-refundable deposit: $40 million
Arena costs: $500 million

Skipping over the costs of flying "native New Yorker" Bernard King in from his home in Atlanta for every press-event at Junior's Restaurant and customizing a 5X-sized Brooklyn Nets jersey for Marty Markowitz and a 6X for his ego, we're still talking about nearly a billion dollars Ratner's gotta convince the NBA's current owners that he has ready to go. That's why his investors, including street-cred mascot Jay-Z, are vital in this area.

Plus, there are those other niggling aspects...like that he doesn't have any of the land yet for the arena, or the public good will of Brooklynites inconveniently "living" and "working" in the arena's footprint zone, or a single commitment for a commercial tenant to rent space in his massive 17-building project to provide a single job, or a clear dollar figure on how much apartments in the complex will cost, or any guarantees from the state legislature in Albany to help pay for the whole kit-and-caboodle.

The question here, then, is: "What NBA owner in their right mind could vote yes on a deal this dubious and brittle?"

The other question, of course, is "What is a caboodle?"

Really...the NBA will have the blood of displaced residents, property owners and workers on their hand, not to mention every taxpayer from Bay Ridge to Buffalo. They'll be the subject of lawsuits, or at the very least, be stuck with a lame-duck team playing to empty houses in the Jersey Meadowlands while this whole thing wends its way through the courts. They could even end up with their very own John Spano, the now-imprisoned scam artist who bought the New York Islanders back in the '90s with a deal that on paper convinced the NHL he was The Man. Spano ended up defaulting on the deal and the deeply embarassed NHL had to find new ownership for the Islanders.

Think Ratner's not fiscally suspect? He can't finish building the New York Times' new headquarters until more public moneys are shovelled into his coffers by the city and state. And that's with the Times as a business partner on this stumbling venture.

Is there any chance the NBA's owners will vote Ratner down. Probably not...why should the NBA be any more careful and well-thought-out on this than Governor Pataki, Mayor Bloomberg, Senator Schumer and Borough President Markowitz? How can they resist Ratner's siren call when local politicians won't lash themselves to the nearest mast knowing full well the whole thing's a house of cards...very heavy, very expensive and very publicly-financed cards.

The NBA could do the right thing. They could force Ratner to not accept a cent in public money for this entire project. That includes zero tax breaks, zero tax-increment financing schemes, zero sweetheart deals on MTA-owned land, zero state agencies bailing out Ratner when he inevitably starts floundering.

They could force Ratner to guarantee, with his own money, that 50% of the housing he's using to seduce people into accepting this deal, is for low-income residents.

They could force Ratner to guarantee, with his own money, that there really will be 10,000 new jobs for Brooklynites in the immediate area, including neighborhoods with rampant unemployment.

They could force Ratner to not destroy a single building currently on the site, and not displace a single resident or worker currently in the footprint.

They could force Ratner to not even think about taking one dime that the city and state have set aside for the Brooklyn Sportsplex facility, a real attempt at facilities for amature and youth sports programs.

In fact, if the arena's really this good of a deal, they could force Ratner to pony up funds for dozens of amateur and youth athletic facilities, instead of his vague promises to allow kids to play a few games "right there where the Nets play."

So then, which owners are on the side of righteousness and good, and which are self-serving, selfish big-business types who care only about themselves?

It's like those lines in Parliament's "Chocolate City," where George Clinton starts rattlin' off all the cities that now have a majority African-American population. (Or did more than a quarter-century ago, when the song was released.)

If we did a song, maybe called "Ratner City," we'd be chiming "We've got Dallas, Cuban hates dilletant owners...I know we've got the Knicks, the Dolans are being squeezed by both stadium projects in New York now...and hey, I heard we might have Sacramento!"

But that's only three, and who knows if it's even three? There will be 29 owners voting. The deal needs 22 of them to say yes. That means that if eight, just eight owners have the courage to say "no" to the shady deals, the destruction of neighborhoods, the lies being foisted on Brooklyn by desperate, despotic public figures who long ago stopped caring about their constituents, then the hundreds of activists and thousands of concerned citizens fighting this crooked deal will not only have won the day, but will have cast in stone a stunning legacy for everyone in the future who will have to fight this same battle.

Actually, it'd be a victory for everyone who every paid taxes, ever worked long hours, ever hungered for real jobs, ever needed schoolbooks for their kids, ever counted the response-time minutes 'til an ambulance or firetruck showed up at their door. every school athlete whose after-school sports programs we lost in a budget crisis.

Truth is, we don't know who, if any owner, will vote against the NBA's strong desire to see Bruce Ratner awarded the Nets franchise.

But in this last week, it won't hurt to write, call and e-mail the NBA's Board of Governors, that is, the owners voting on Ratner's purchase of the New Jersey Nets. Over there on the left, click on the ACTION link. We've got all the addresses for everyone voting. Drop 'em a line and let 'em know what it really means to be a leader.

Fans For Fair Play would tell the NBA personally, but they've refused to meet with us or any of the groups, including Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn, Prospect Heights Action Coalition, Brooklyn Visions, or the dozens of other groups fighting Ratner's project.

Write and tell the owners what you think of Bruce Ratner's hijacking of Brooklyn.

Remember...leaders lead by sticking their necks out and doing the right thing.

Leaders do not, under any circumstances, fall in with the Schumers, Patakis, Markowitzes, Bloombergs and Ratners of the world.

Real leaders never have, and never will.

Get those letters and phone calls out as soon as possible.

This is a shot-clock that cannot, under any circumstance, be allowed to tick down to zero.
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