Bruce Ratner’s Brooklyn Tail: Unpopular Development Hides in Shadow of the Nets

Tracy Norton Feb 5, 2004

After months of bidding wars, real estate mogul Bruce Ratner has finally purchased the New Jersey Nets. The $300 million dollar deal with the current owners now awaits the approval of at least three-quarters of NBA team owners. However, Ratner’s greatest opposition is to his plans to move the team to Brooklyn.

Not only does the billionaire developer plan to build an arena for his team, his vision also includes 17 commercial, office and residential high-rises that will knock out several blocks of homes and businesses in Prospect Heights.

Many are beginning to see the stadium as nothing more than a way to get Brooklyn rooting so the rest of the development can slip in unnoticed. Area Councilwoman Leticia James, a vehement opponent of the plan, notes, “No one would go rah rah for a development like this if the arena weren’t part of it.”

The massive development will be dropped between several residential areas where brownstones easily sell for $1.2 million. Claims of “knitting” together the communities with high-rises are dubious; high walls rarely make for good block parties, and chain stores are known for taking money out of neighborhoods.

Develop Don’t Destroy, a group representing area residents at risk of losing their homes, has proposed a compromise. Ratner could tear down his Atlantic Center Mall property – an architectural scar on the community – instead of homes.

In addition to millions in tax abatements and road repairs, Atlantic Center Mall currently receives millions in rent from the state for the Department of Motor Vehicles and Empire State Development Corp., which stepped in when no one else would rent the spaces. Many Brooklynites are asking why residents should sacrifice their homes and community while Ratner surrenders nothing.

The scale of the buildings set to surround the stadium is also controversial. While many Brooklyn residents enjoy living here because of the absence of looming towers, the proposed buildings will exceed the height of the Williamsburg Savings Bank. Additional development will be necessary for financial success, but according to many experts, stadiums divert money away from the local economy and create almost no new tax revenue.

Ratner has also had his hand in the development of Atlantic Commons, a set of three-story row houses near the development site. Councilwoman James, an opponent of the current Atlantic Yards plan, sees this kind of development as exactly what Brooklyn needs: mixed incomes and ethnicities on a human scale. Homes and gardens are the dream of many city dwellers, not cold towers and the sounds of the unknown neighbor upstairs.

The implications of a professional team returning to Brooklyn may give sports fans chills, but the implications of a development that will rip down 1,000+ taxpayer homes, destroy jobs, require millions in funding from taxes present and future, and literally and figuratively dwarf beloved and successful communities – all of this gets other Brooklynites heated.

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