Atlantic Yards developer Bruce Ratner is poised to ask city and state officials for more public subsidies to keep afloat his faltering mega-project — but at least two councilmen are just as ready to stop the money grab.
After the president and CEO of Ratner’s parent company, Forest City Enterprises, told industry analysts that “we still need more” subsidies to build Atlantic Yards, Councilmen David Yassky (D–Brooklyn Heights) and Bill DeBlasio (D–Park Slope) said that the already-committed $1 billion in public underwriting is enough.
“My head spins in astonishment that they would want more,” said Yassky.
Ratner has not yet made any public request for more taxpayer dollars, but last month, he told the New York Times that the current economic downturn had made it impossible for him to build the entire 16-skyscraper, 6,800-unit, arena, office space and hotel project.
In the same interview, Ratner said the project has been downsized to just the arena and two or three smaller residential buildings alongside it. The rest of Atlantic Yards — which contained the bulk of the 2,250 units of affordable housing and all of the eight acres of public space — is currently off the table.
But even in that context, the comment by FCE President Chuck Ratner (Bruce’s cousin) in the April 2 conference call with investors and analysts still came as a surprise.
In the exchanger, Chuck Ratner first congratulated himself and Forest City Ratner President Joanne Minieri for getting “various governmental agencies in New York to increase their commitments to Atlantic Yards by $105 million on top of the $200 million they had committed.”
Then he dropped the bombshell: “We still need more.”
The conference call was first reported by the New York Observer, though the Atlantic Yards Report, a Web site, uncovered Ratner’s need for more subsidies.
It is unclear what additional subsides the company would seek. But it is clear that Ratner will have a fight on his hands.
“I cannot approve of more subsidies when the only thing that’s certain is a stadium,” said DeBlasio, who called for “a timeline for the full project, especially with respect to the affordable housing.”
He also demanded to know “exactly why the additional subsidies are needed and what they would be used for.”
A Ratner spokesman declined to comment for this story.
Given the apparent collapse of Atlantic Yards, Yassky called on city and state officials to renegotiate their deal with Ratner.
“Whether you think the original deal was good or bad — and I think it was a bad deal — the project that he agreed to build is not being built,” Yassky said. “So we need to renegotiate.”
Fifty-eight-million dollars of the city and state’s initial $305-million contribution have already been given to Ratner — money that Yassky thinks should be given back.
“They’ve gotten $58 million for a project that they’re not going to build,” he said.
Daniel Goldstein, a spokesman for the anti-Yards group Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn, echoed Yassky.
“If Ratner can’t build his project — with over $300 million in direct cash subsidy, over $2 billion in government-backed financing, a blank city check for ‘extraordinary infrastructure costs,’ free land from the city, a below-market rail yard purchase price, and the windfall benefits of eminent domain condemnation — he should not be rewarded with yet more taxpayer funds,” Goldstein said.