Challenging Bruce Ratner’s Brooklyn Atlantic Yards project
Tuesday, July 06, 2004
It's been an explosive week, having nothing to do with Iraq, John Kerry's running mate or the Mets-Yankees subway series...though it did end with fireworks, themselves having nothing to do with the Fourth of July.See the Archives for more...
On Tuesday, an independent economic report on Bruce Ratner's Brooklyn Atlantic Yards project (BAY) -- you know, the one where sports fans' good will is being exploited by a rich developer -- was released. Co-authored and researched by economics experts Jung Kim (London School of Economics) and Gustav Peebles (Columbia University), the report uses the numbers from Bruce Ratner's own report, and demonstrates how shaky those figures are, how speculative some of the predictions are, and how unusual some of the formulae are.
You likely know this already, but Ratner's report, bought and paid for by Forest City Ratner, was written by noted sports economist and, until Bruce Ratner waved his checkbook in his face, vociferous anti-stadium critic Andrew Zimbalist.
The Ratner report: BAY will earn the city and state $800 million dollars.
The Kim/Peebles report (using Zimbalists own numbers): BAY will cost city and state taxpayers $500 million.
That's a $1.3 billion swing. $1.3 billion that city and state taxpayers are being asked to hand over unquestioningly to Bruce Ratner...asked by Brooklyn Borough President Markowitz, Governor Pataki, Mayor Bloomberg and Senator Schumer.
You know it's a hard-hitting, potentially devastating report when the best the Ratner people can say is "well, uh, they're not, um, real economists, so their report isn't, like, good."
You know what? Read both the reports and decide for yourself. The Ratner/Zimbalist report and the Kim/Peebles report are both at the Develop Don't Destroy website.
Our guess is that Bruce Ratner's slick, official website wont' be carrying both reports, like the more responsible Develop Don't Destroy site.
Then again, if Bruce Ratner really wanted you to know the truth behind the BAY project, he'd, uh, well, he'd...
Never mind -- the last thing he wants is for you to know the truth.
Same for Markowitz, Pataki, Bloomberg and Schumer.
The Kim/Peebles report was released on Tuesday. By week's end, it had gotten worse for Bruce Ratner.
For a couple of weeks prior, the media had been reporting that Ratner was well on his way to new lows of skinflint team ownership. He was slashing salary, they wrote...he wasn't gonna re-sign Kenyon Martin to save on salary...he was gonna trade Jason Kidd to save on salary...he was gonna fail to pick up Richard Jefferson's extension on August 1 to save on salary...he was acively shopping Kerry Kittles to save on salary...he was gonna trade the Nets' first round draft choice for cash to make some money...he might not re-sign Rod Thorn, who'd turned the Nets into a championship caliber team -- that's right, to save money.
This wasn't just the local press. This story ran nationwide. Finally, Ratner was being called out for what he is...a real-estate developer who could care less about basketball, the Nets, the NBA, and sports fans, a guy using the team to seduce powerful politicians into supporting a 17-building office/retail/residential complex for which he has no land but is trying to wheedle billions in public funds and tax breaks.
Rumors have to start somewhere, have some basis in fact.
Bruce Ratner was so stung by these reports that he called all New York area Nets beat reporters to his finely-furnished offices atop Metrotech, the cold and soulless corporate park he built over wrecked portions of the downtown Brooklyn and Fort Greene neighborhoods. (atner promised in the mid-'80s that Metrotech would provide jobs for nearby residents, residents whose unemployment rate is the same now as when the wrecking balls started clearing the way for Metrotech nearly 20 years ago.)
As Ratner met each reporter, his trusty p.r. flack Barry Baum was by his side to make sure things went, well, smoothly.
If the wobbly top spinning Ratner did all day could be considered "smoothly," then Barry Baum's smiling.
But he shouldn't be.
Ratner, well coached and full of nervous energy, rambled on and on and provided the press corps some real gems:
Referring to the NBA's luxury tax for teams that exceed their salary cap, Ratner said "It's got the word 'tax' in it. Nobody likes taxes." (Ratner should know about nobody liking taxes. Most of his massive developments come with tax breaks and abatements like his Atlantic Center Mall's quarter-century of totally tax-free operation.)
"You know, people don't have respect for the teams that aren't responsible, frankly. You look at the fans that say, 'That guy is spending too much.'" (Yeah, that really bugs Yankee fans when they celebrate the club's seven-thousandth World Series championship. Overspending only bugs sports fans when the team doesn't produce. This is another remark demonstrating Ratner's cluelessness about sports fans and the way the sports world comports itself.)
Ratner's not, he says, a "win at all costs" owner. (That's right...he's a win at your costs owner, using public funds, Liberty Bonds, and in his latest taxpayer ripoff, Brownfield Funds for his New York Times building in Times Square. Ratner and the New York Times Company, his partner on the project is raiding Brownfield to appropriate $170 million in money that's supposed to he used to clean up toxic land so that jobs can be created.)
"It's time for people to know me a little bit" (No, that time was six months ago, when this thing broke, and the affected communities were clammoring to meet Ratner and begin working with him on fashioning a project that would work for the various neighborhoods as well as Forest City Ratner and the New Jersey Nets. To date he has met with no one in Prospect Heights, Fort Greene, Clinton Hill, Park Slope, Boerum Hill or downtown Brooklyn, except those few residents and building owners who have courted his big payouts. If his project's so good for Brooklyn, why won't he meet with Brooklyn?)
"I don't want to discuss specifics." (He's right about this one -- he won't discuss specifics about the money the Nets are hemhorraging, the amount of public money he wants the city and state to give him, or what he'll do to keep the current team together. Look at it this way...if you were buying something and the shopkeeper gave you as little information about their product as Ratner's providing taxpayers in New York, would you buy what they were selling? Of course not.)
"I'm not a micro-manager. I'm there to be supportive. I'm there to provide resources. I'm there to provide overall leadership." (Like the "leadership" he provided when he decided he didn't want "gang members" from the "nearby projects" to intimidate shoppers at his universally-derided Atlantic Center mall. Ratner's "leadership" involved intentionally designing the mall to discourage residents from the neighboring Atlantic Terminal Houses. To this day, Ratner can't -- or won't -- comprehend just how racist his assumptions about the mall's neighbors were. Some leadership, huh?)
"This is not a business venture to make money." (Even his own economic reports agrees with that. Zimbalist says the Nets and the arena will be money losers.)
Speaking about trading Kerry Kittles, Ratner said "That's a decision I give to management. Certain things won't happen, that's all. Period. Triple period." (Do you want someone with Brooklyn's future in their hands whose synapses misfire, careening from "period" to "triple period"? And have you ever heard someone say "triple period"? I mean, once they graduated from grade school?
"I'm just the opposite of a penny pincher." (Well, that's just a big damned lie, that is. Ratner's idea of making his Atlantic Center Mall more attractive was to paint part of it brown and cover up loud garish signs with plastic-sheet banners.
"I'm just the opposite of a penny pincher." (This quote is so good, we have to use it twice. One one level, Ratner is the opposite...when it's your penny he's pinching. Then, he's "opposite of a penny pincher" in very, very extravagant ways.
Commenting on the Nets' loss to the Pistons in this year's conference finals, Ratner said through his prop hanky "It was one of the most moving moments, honestly, of my life, and that's the truth. I saw what these players had put into the effort, how disappointed they were, and how down they were about not winning. I really understood." (First, when was the last time this rich developer with friends in high places and a payroll full of people to do his dirty work understood what losing entailed. Second, it's more likely Barry Baum sat Ratner down and made him watch a tape of the game before coaching him on how to be down with the little people.)
"In the case of real estate, people look and say, 'Look how beautiful this place is.' That's the same thing in the case of basketball." (Huh?)
"It's about bringing this team to a new arena, civic pride, responsibility and a place we think they can flourish in terms of involvement and excitement. I mean, my God, Brooklyn and sports!" (I mean, my God, what the hell do you know about Brooklyn and sports? You're from Cleveland and live on the Upper East Side. If there's one thing Brooklyn sports fans can spot it's a phony. Don't belittle us with talk like that.)
"Obviously you want to watch and make sure you have a certain revenue stream that you can just optimize." (Right, just the kind of language Ratner's using to show he knows how to speak the American Sportsfan dialect.)
Sports fans are smart. We know spin, or to be less polite, crap, when we hear it. We pick apart bland remarks from slumping players, befuddled coaches and GMs whose jobs are on the line. Every day in the papers we read these soundbytes like Sovietologists used to read between Pravda's and TASS' lines to see what was up behind the Kremlin walls.
ultimately, this is how Ratner's one-on-ones with the Nets beat reports played out this weekend:
JOURNALISTS (COLLECTIVELY): "Bruce, what kind of owner will you be?"
RATNER (as told through Barry Baum): "I, uh, love basketball, love Kenyon Kidd and Kerry Jefferson, and Rod Thorn is here forev- well, a long time, maybe and, uh, I can really optimize those revenue streams!"
The worst thing about Operation Bruce Is A Cool Guy is how utterly condescending and patronizing it was to Brooklynites, taxpayers, working people, local residents and sports fans.
Ratner lost this one...Barry Baum lost this one...and in their wake, so did Markowitz, Schumer, Bloomberg and Pataki.
Especially Markowitz, 'cause he brought in a guy who couldn't be crueler and more belittling to the very Brooklynites that Markowitz claims to love and protect so much. Marty, you've hitched your wagon to a Manhattancentric whose now infamous quote "Brooklyn needs a Manhattan skyline" is etched in Brooklynites' memories. All but yours. Your selective memory is killing the land you love, and you're lending a hand.
So fireworks it was, and fireworks it will be. This week proved what we've known for a long time:
Bruce Ratner couldn't care less about sports fans, except the part where he hopes we'll shut up, lie down, and meekly allow him to use our tax dollars and good graces to build his monstrosity at the corner of Flatbush and Atlantic.
The question is, what are Brooklyn fans gonna do about it?
* * * * * * * *
It's not too late to contact the NBA and let them know what you think about Bruce Ratner. Click on "ACTION" on the left, and you can write, e-mail or in many cases call the NBA owners who, we think this Friday, July 9th, will vote on whether Bruce Ratner gets the Nets. It only takes eight no votes to keep Ratner from getting the team.
If you'd rather contact the NBA, the phone number is 212-407-8000, where you can ask for Commissioner David Stern and Deputy Commissioner Russ Granik. You might wanna ask them why the NBA, traditionally so image concious, has refused to meet with the communities destined to be badly affected by Ratner's plans. Granik on two occassions has said "no" to meeting with the communities. His and Stern's e-mails are rgranik @nba.com and email@example.com.