Bill: State should pay Bruce to build less at Atlantic Yards site

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Bruce Ratner would get hundreds of millions of dollars in state funds if he builds less at Atlantic Yards, under a new state Assembly bill.

Assemblyman Jim Brennan (D-Park Slope) has proposed capping the total size of Ratner’s Atlantic Yards mega-development at 5.85 million square feet — down from the 8.7 million square feet in the current project, which features 17 skyscrapers, 6,900 units of housing, retail and office space, a hotel and a 19,000-seat arena for the relocated New Jersey Nets.

To compensate Ratner for the smaller project, Brennan’s bill would give the developer the Atlantic Yards site for free, rather than charging him $100 million for it. The MTA had appraised the site at $214 million.

In addition, Brennan’s bill would relieve Ratner of his obligation to renovate the Long Island Rail Road yard, saving him another $200 million, the assemblyman said.

Brennan’s bill would also require the state — rather than Ratner himself — to subsidize the 50-percent of the project that Ratner agreed to set aside as affordable housing.

“This bill is like negotiating with a hijacker,” said Daniel Goldstein, spokesman for the anti-Atlantic Yards group, Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn.

“Brennan is saying, ‘OK, OK, here’s some money. Just don’t build it so big!’ He’s throwing money at a developer to not build something he hasn’t even gotten the right to build yet.”

Brennan’s spokesman John O’Keefe disagreed, saying the bill was merely an effort to make the project smaller, but still keep it viable for the developer.

“The site costs and [Ratner’s] affordable-housing commitment are making the project bulkier,” O’Keefe said. “It’s making him add millions of square feet.”

It’s unclear whether the bill has any chance of becoming law. Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan) is a supporter of the project.

“That pretty much makes a bill like this impossible,” said a source close to the project.

A spokesman for Silver declined to comment.

Officially, Ratner’s people were playing it close to the vest.

“We’re studying it,” Jim Stuckey, a Forest City Ratner vice-president, said this week.

But Stuckey added that shrinking the super-sized project is not financially feasible for the developer.

“To develop this site, we have to spend $600 million on infrastructure before we put a shovel in the ground,” Stuckey said on WNYC radio.

“On top of that, we’ve committed that half of our 4,500 rental apartments are going to be affordable- and middle-income rental apartments, where no one pays more than 30 percent of their annual household income to live.

“That’s a very, very significant commitment. And the problem, when you want to build that type of commitment … it demands that there be a certain amount of density,” he said.

But Goldstein disputed that, too.

“It is impossible to judge the financials without the financials,” he said. “Ratner has not shown anyone his numbers, so we don’t know how much density he ‘needs.’”

Updated 4:00 pm, November 10, 2010
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