The Atlantic Yards project’s most-dogged critic, Daniel Goldstein of Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn, went to Cleveland on Friday to confront development company officials on why their project should be abandoned.
As one might expect, company officials were not persuaded.
Goldstein was the only shareholder who asked a question at Friday’s annual meeting in Cleveland, the home base of Forest City Enterprises, the parent company of Bruce Ratner’s Forest City Ratner.
Goldstein, whose Pacific Street apartment would be demolished to make room for Ratner’s basketball arena, bought a few shares in the company earlier this year so that he could attend the meeting. An audio recording is here (Goldstein’s comments come about an hour into the meeting, though the Web cast does not work with all browsers).
Here is what he asked:
“Forest City is losing $30 million a year while the Nets stay in New Jersey.
“The project is being redesigned and faces a new political approval process, staunch and widespread community opposition, ongoing and potential new litigation, diminished political support, an extremely challenging economic environment in which to finance an $800-million arena and 6,400 housing units.
“And [on Friday], it became official that Frank Gehry will no longer be the project’s architect, which raises questions about Forest City’s $400-million naming-rights deal with Barclays Bank, and the entire arena revenue model.
“You don’t own the land you need or have the financing you need to construct the arena or the rest of the project. Yet you claim you will finance it, break ground this year and open the arena in 2011, which is already an impossibility. This means the losses from keeping the team in Meadowlands will continue to mount.
“You also have a looming end-of-year IRS deadline to issue the tax-exempt arena bond, and missing the deadline would cost Forest City an estimated $150–190 million, likely spelling doom for the project.
“Given all of these challenges, can you let the Forest City Enterprises shareholders know [the] contingency plans if and when you don’t break ground in 2009 and can’t open the arena in Brooklyn in 2011?”
The answer came from Forest City Enterprises Co-chairman Al Ratner:
“The company does believe that it will start the project during this year,” he said, declining further comment because, he said, of ongoing litigation.
Goldstein later he told the Atlantic Yards Report that he did not go to the meeting merely as a project critic.
“I went to the meeting to raise the issues I raised with shareholders and board members based in Cleveland and those listening to the Web cast,” he said. “I went to challenge Forest City Ratner’s assertions about their ability to start the arena construction in 2009, and open it in 2011. I did not expect any answers.”
Forest City Ratner officials could not be reached in time for The Brooklyn Paper’s spicy online deadline, but last week, the company said that the firing of Frank Gehry and the hiring of the architecture firm Ellerbe Becket would save enough money to kickstart the project, which has been delayed, partly by litigation, but mostly by the stalled ecomomy.
Despite the changes, and contrary to Goldstein’s comments, the project still enjoys the political support of many local officials, including Borough President Markowitz, Mayor Bloomberg and Gov. Paterson.
Opponents have been arguing that the project has changed so much since its approval in late 2006 that it needs to be re-reviewed and abandoned.