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Ratner buyout silences critics

The Brooklyn Paper
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Real estate developer Bruce Ratner is closing in on a $32 million deal to buy out residents of a nine-story building standing at what would be center court of his new Nets arena project.

Residents of the Atlantic Art Building at 636 Pacific St. are being offered up to double what they paid for their posh apartments, but few are talking publicly about the deal.

That’s because they must agree to a gag order to get the money, sources said.

The waiver residents are being asked to sign prohibits them from speaking out against the arena or attending anti-arena rallies and public hearings.

Residents are also required to take down anti-arena signs from the building’s entranceway and doorway and are forbidden from donating money to any groups opposing the project.

Civil liberties attorney Norman Siegel, who is representing residents and businesses that would be displaced by the $2.5 billion retail, residential and commercial development, called the gag order “extremely offensive and troubling.”

While first amendment rules don’t apply to private business deals, “lawyers are thinking about whether there is anything that can be done [about the gag rule],” Siegel said.

Ratner recently purchased the New Jersey Nets for $300 million and is looking to bring them to Brooklyn. As part of the plan for the 21-acre site — that also includes 4,500 apartments — Ratner is asking the state to condemn over two square blocks of privately-owned land.

Barry Baum, a spokesman for Ratner, declined to comment on the gag order saying, “We are not discussing negotiations with individual residents.”

James Greilsheimer, an attorney representing the owners at 636 Pacific St., also declined to comment.

Prospect Heights Councilwoman Letitia James, an outspoken opponent of the project, said she found the gag order “very troubling.”

“This project is not a done deal, money can not buy love from the entire community,” said James, adding, “Unless he’s willing to have a dialogue with the larger community, he is going to continue to face roadblocks.”


Updated 4:00 pm, November 10, 2010
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