DEMOLITION MAN Ratner preps Atlantic Yards site

The Brooklyn Paper
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It has begun: Bruce Ratner has started clearing the site of his proposed Atlantic Yards arena, residential and office mega-project.

Workers wearing gardening gloves and knit caps arrived at the moody Samuel Underberg Building at the intersection of Atlantic and Flatbush avenues around 11:30 on Tuesday morning to begin what will be a months-long process of removing toxic asbestos and then demolishing the 19th-century structure.

Five other buildings nearby will follow — the historic beginning of a project that may take more than a decade to complete and cost $3.5 billion.

In this first step this week, the workers used grocery carts to haul odd pieces of furniture and mixing bowls still wrapped in plastic from the Underberg building, which once housed a food supply store.

The buildings — all owned by Ratner or in contract to be sold to him — will be demolished before the mega-project is even approved.
The initial demolition work followed a report issued by a Ratner-hired engineer that recommended the building be torn town to prevent a collapse due to structurally weakness.

Councilwoman Letitia James (D-Prospect Heights) challenged the engineer’s report.

“I have a serious problem with their contention that the buildings are unsound,” James said. “At this point, it looks to me like a show of confidence to their investors.

“They are creating blight by demolition to move the project forward,” she added.

In a letter to the developer, James, state Sen. Velmanette Mongomery (D-Fort Greene) and Rep. Major Owens (D-Crown Heights) accused him of starting demolition work as a ploy to show that the neighborhood is blighted — a requirement before land can be condemned for seizure through eminent domain.

Ratner owns 92 percent of the residential properties within the footprint of his project. Remaining building owners are quickly selling out.

“People from Ratner’s company call me and now I talk with them,” said Jason Bijur, who owns a 16-family apartment building at 473 Dean St., between Flatbush and Sixth avenues.

All over the neighborhood, longtime businesses and residents are moving out, knowing that the Ratner project has finally entered its initial phase — the first tangible evidence of the developer’s effort to reshape an entire neighborhood.

“The demolition is on its way,” said Dan Kershenbaum, who packed up a lifetime’s belongings for ninetysomething artist Louise Bourgeois, who owned a studio at 475 Dean St.

Bourgeois agreed to be out of the building by Jan. 29, Kershenbaum said. Ratner is paying for her relocation.

At Harriet’s Alter Ego, a clothing boutique on Flatbush, a half off “We’re Moving” sale was in full-swing this week. The store will close on Dec. 31 and reopen farther east on Flatbush Avenue in a space partially subsidized by the developer.

Despite the physical manifestations of the project’s advancement this week, the lead state agency is not expected to approve the draft Environmental Impact Statement and Ratner’s use of eminent domain until early in 2006.

“We believe the condemnations could start as early as May or June,” said Daniel Goldstein, spokesman for Develop —Don’t Destroy Brooklyn. .

Updated 4:00 pm, November 10, 2010
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