MTA seeks as much money as it can get … from Ratner

The Brooklyn Paper
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Metropolitan Transportation Authority Chairman Peter Kalikow said this week he would seek “maximum value” for an 11-acre Long Island Rail Road storage yards site in Prospect Heights — over which developer Bruce Ratner is looking to build a colossal arena complex — but demurred when asked if he would put the property through an open bidding process.

“I fight tenaciously for the rights of the MTA and the values of their properties,” Kalikow told reporters after a monthly meeting of the MTA board Wednesday morning.

But when asked if the MTA planned to put out a request for proposals on the site, Kalikow said, “I don’t know.”

Asked if the Atlantic Yards site would go to Ratner or simply to the highest bidder, Kalikow responded, “That’s complicated.”

During the meeting, Prospect Heights residents opposed to the arena plan, many of whom would be displaced to build it, asked the MTA chief to open up the property to a public biding process and seek community input before handing it over to Ratner.

The developer is an old law school buddy of the man who appoints the MTA board, Gov. George Pataki.

Ratner’s plan would require seizing more than two square blocks of private land south of the rail yards and displacing approximately 500 residents and businesses.

His $300 million bid for the New Jersey Nets was accepted in January and he awaits final NBA approval and is in the process of finalizing the financing for the purchase, which includes investors such as rap star Jay-Z. He wants to move the team to Brooklyn.

Opponents of the plan accused Ratner of having a “backroom deal” with the MTA to purchase the air rights to develop the site.

“The MTA has a history of closed books and no oversight,” said Daniel Goldstein, a resident of 636 Pacific St., a nine-story luxury apartment building that would be razed to make way for the project.

Goldstein attended the board meeting along with several opponents of the plan.

Questions about such deals between the MTA and Ratner first surfaced last year when an MTA spokesman incorrectly told The Brooklyn Papers on three different occasions that Ratner had already purchased the air rights to develop over the storage yards.

The spokesman later said that he had made a mistake and that Ratner did not hold the rights.

But speaking at a buildings trade conference in Manhattan earlier this month, Ratner thanked the MTA for “supporting” his plan.
“The MTA has been wonderful in supporting both projects,” Ratner said, referring to both his plan and a plan to build a new football stadium for the New York Jets on Manhattan’s West Side.

The MTA said it has not received an application to review the plan.

Frank Gehry, known for designing the Guggenheim Bilbao, in Spain, is designing the 7.7-million-square-foot development.

Updated 4:00 pm, November 10, 2010
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