Ratner ups the ante

The Brooklyn Paper
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Developer Bruce Ratner has been floating the notion that he might build a second sports facility — for amateur athletics — in addition to a professional basketball arena for the New Jersey Nets, on the site for the proposed Atlantic Yards development.

While it isn’t clear whether the facility would be housed within the proposed 800,000-square-foot, 19,000-seat professional basketball arena or elsewhere, amateur athletic sgroups working closely with Forest City Ratner say they have been told that a 3,000-seat “gym” adjacent to the arena was being considered.

“We have been talking to local sports folks and they’ve indicated an interest in an amateur athletic facility and that is something we would like to discuss further with them and consider,” said Joe DePlasco, a spokesman for Ratner, who declined to elaborate on where it would be located or how regularly it would be available to amateur organizations.

“We do very much want to incorporate a larger amateur athletic program overall into the effort,” Dellasco added. “And we are certainly open to discussing using the NBA facility for major school games, etc.”

Ratner’s Atlantic Yards site stretches east into Prospect Heights from the intersection of Atlantic and Flatbush avenues.

Richard Lipsky, a lobbyist for Ratner who works closely with amateur athletics groups and youth organizations, said that he’s met with more than 60 groups to discuss an outreach program sponsored by Forest City Ratner. He said that besides discounted tickets to Nets games and a possibility that the Nets arena would host Public School Athletic League (PSAL) championship basketball games, a flurry of other ideas have been suggested, although none are certain.

Vernon Jones, president of NYC, expressed doubt that the extra facility would be anything more than a practice facility for the New Jersey Nets, which Ratner agreed to purchase in January for $300 million. If that were the case, he said, area youth groups would likely only be allowed access on an irregular basis.

At an anti-Ratner rally on Sunday, and later in telephone conversations, Jones suggested that $67 million earmarked four years ago for the construction of Sportsplex, an amateur athletic arena planned for Coney Island, could be usurped by Ratner and put toward the Atlantic Yards project under the guise of being used as a facility for amateur athletics.

“The impression is that this is something that’s being done out of the goodness of his heart,” Jones said of Ratner’s recent outreach to youth groups and amateur athletics groups. “But it isn’t like that at all. My concern is that the arena should be used 365 days a year for amateur athletics because that’s what those funds are for.”

In 2000, city, state and Brooklyn officials earmarked $67 million toward the construction of the Sportsplex in Coney Island. Then-Mayor Rudy Giuliani pledged $30 million and the state legislature and Gov. George Pataki each offered $15 million. Then-Borough President Howard Golden secured $7 million.

Sharon Toomer, a spokeswoman for Borough President Marty Markowitz, said this week that Borough Hall’s portion of the money is still on the table for the Sportsplex, although she didn’t know if it would also become available to other amateur athletic proposals as more submissions surface.

“It was earmarked for the Sportsplex and it’s still there,” said Toomer, who added that the funds would not be available until 2006 and would not be divided among multiple groups.

Since it was first conceived in 1987, the plan for the 12,000-seat Sportsplex has been steeped in difficulties, and was essentially shelved after Giuliani shunned it in favor of building Keyspan Park, a baseball stadium for the minor league Brooklyn Cyclones adjacent to the Sportsplex site.

The plan was revived after it was listed as a site for indoor volleyball in the city’s bid for the 2012 summer Olympic games, but that plan has since cooled in light of Ratner’s plan for a downtown arena.

Kenneth Adams, president of the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce and a key supporter of the Sportsplex, said that while the funding from the borough president is still available, he didn’t know if the same held true for the remaining $60 million.

He said the future of Sportsplex would become clear by the end of the year when the design firm of David Brody and Bond, and the accounting firm of Ernst and Young, chosen to lead Coney Island’s redevelopment, release their preliminary proposal for the area.

“These are two absolutely distinct projects, with distinct funding needs,” Adams said of the Downtown Brooklyn arena and Sportsplex.
Two Ratner spokesmen said this week that those amateur athletics funds have not been discussed as a part of their plans.

“That’s not even on the table, we haven’t even looked at that,” said Lipsky. “This issue of financing isn’t the most challenging. It’s the ability to configure the [amateur sports] gym within the footprint without losing something else necessary to make a viable project.”

And Toomer said that Ratner’s group, with whom the borough president has worked closely on the basketball arena plan, has not approached Markowitz about the Sportsplex money.

Carlton Screen, executive director of the Flatbush Youth Association, said that the possibility of showcasing PSAL championships, or even playoffs, at the Ratner arena would be seen as great progress for amateur athletics in Brooklyn. Now, he said, playoff games are held in the Bronx, at Lehman College, and championship games are played at Madison Square Garden in Manhattan.

“This will give the amateur world in Brooklyn an opportunity to express itself,” said Screen, who won city championships in 1965 as a captain of Erasmus High School’s basketball and baseball teams.

Both he and Richard Kosik, a retired special education instructor who has taught at Fort Hamilton High School in Bay Ridge, said that they have met with Lipsky several times to discuss ways in which Ratner could reach out to youth groups, including building the smaller facility.

Kosik said that in at least three meetings Lipsky told him that facility was being considered as a development adjacent to the arena, although he didn’t tell him precisely where it would fit in the already cramped Atlantic Yards landscape.

“I think that it could be a positive thing, with the Nets coming to Brooklyn,” said Kosik. “Because all indications are that they would be very community-oriented and fan-friendly.”

Updated 4:00 pm, November 10, 2010
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