The Atlantic Yards mega-project, initially envisioned by developer Bruce Ratner as a 16-skyscraper office, residential and basketball arena complex, is now officially dead, thanks to a new deal with state officials that calls for Ratner to only acquire land to build the arena and one or two buildings around it.
On Tuesday, the board of the Empire State Development Corporation approved a new “General Project Plan” that reveals that Ratner only wants to develop the eight acres above the Vanderbilt railyard near the corner of Atlantic and Flatbush avenues. The state and Ratner have put off acquiring the other 14 acres that comprise what was once called the Atlantic Yards project site.
“The remainder of the site will be acquired when necessary for development,” Steve Matlin, the ESDC’s counsel, told the agency’s board on Tuesday.
In other words, the remainder of the project, which includes the vast majority of the below-market-rate housing and open space that was part of the project when it was originally approved in December, 2006, has been put off indefinitely.
The new general project plan is laced with escape clauses that allow the developer to walk away or postpone what was once supposed to be a 22-acre mega-project in Prospect Heights. The developer need only cite “adverse economic conditions … over an extensive period of time,” according to a memo describing the deal.
The deal still requires Ratner to break ground on the arena and provide at least 300 of the project’s originally promised 2,250 units of “affordable” housing by the end of the calendar year.
He also has to finish a temporary rail yard for the Long Island Rail Road as part of this phase — though today, the Metropolitan Transit Authority approved a bailout of Ratner that allows the developer to pay only $20 million up front for the railyard, down from the $100 million the developer promised in 2006.
That deal also allows Ratner to renege on roughly $200 million of his promised $345 million in railyard work that was originally approved in 2006.
The Empire State Development Corporation said it had to act now to salvage the stalled project.
“Without these changes, the project cannot move forward,” Matlin said.
The Empire State Development Corporation maintains that the embattled project will be built by 2019.
But that goal comes with enormous cost overruns. The state also revealed that the project would now cost at least $4.9 billion, up from $4 billion.
The cost would be hundreds of millions more if Ratner hadn’t parted with architect Frank Gehry, whose signature looks have been replaced with a hangar-like arena design from the architecture firm of Ellerbe Becket.
Yards foes objected to Tuesday’s changes, saying that alterations to the general project plan are so radical that the project now requires another environmental impact study, a lengthy process. The Empire State Development Corporation said the project remains essentially the same, rendering an additional review unnecessary. However, the agency will schedule some meetings this summer for the public to comment on the changes.
The state’s rush to rescue Bruce Ratner appalled some critics.
“They’re throwing him a lifeline,” said Jim Vogel, spokesman for state Sen. Velmanette Montgomery (D–Fort Greene). “This is the worst possible outcome for everyone. It’s going to blight the neighborhood even though they now say, ‘Wait and something good will grow.’”
Vogel lashed Ratner and the state for dangling elusive public benefits before the community to win some support for the highly charged Atlantic Yards, than backtracking from them.
“They’re trading on people’s hopes [for affordable housing and jobs,]” Vogel said.
©2009 Community News Group
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