Yards held back - Court refuses to toss challenge

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The anticipated late 2008 groundbreaking of the Barclays Center Arena set to house the NBA’s Nets as part of the Atlantic Yards project appears to be on hold.

That after a State Appellate Court on Sept. 25 rejected the Empire State Development Corporation’s (ESDC) motion to dismiss an eminent domain lawsuit to stop the project.

Nine property owners and tenants with properties on the 22-acre footprint of the proposed project originally filed the case in August with the backing of opponents of the project.

“The seizure of my clients’ homes and businesses is unconstitu­tional,” said Matthew Brinckerhoff, attorney for the property owners and opponents of the project.

“We are pleased that the Court has recognized the merit of our case and will now hear the arguments in full,” he added.

An ESDC spokesperson said the agency does not comment on pending litigation.

According to the court ruling, the ESDC has until Oct. 15 to file its answer to the petitioners’ complaint, and after the petitioners answer briefs, a final ruling is not expected until spring 2009 at the earliest.

In order for Atlantic Yards project developer Forest City Ratner Companies (FCRC) to proceed with financing and to close on the project, the company must be clear of all litigation.

“While the Appellate Division Second Department’s decision to hear the case may delay the project for approximately six months let me be clear that the project will go forward,” said FCRC Chair and CEO Bruce Ratner in a statement.

Ratner stressed that the project “will create thousands of needed jobs and affordable homes.”

“This is all the more important as our City and country confront one of the most difficult economic downturns in history,” he said.

The court ruling may have also put a stop to Barclays Bank having a naming rights deal for the proposed areans.

Under the deal, said to be worth about $20 million a year for 20 years, Barclays is reported to have a back-out clause if construction on the arena doesn’t commence by the end of November.

However, a Barclays spokesperson told reporters that the company remains committed to the arena project.

The court ruling comes after opponents have filed several other court cases against the project since it was first announced in 2003. While almost all of them have been unsuccessful, they have helped to delay the project.

Casting futher doubt upon the project is the financial crisis gripping the world that could have a major effect on financing the $950 million arena and $4 billion overall project.

The possible stoppage of the project would also grind to a halt the community benefits agreement (CBA) that FCRC signed with several local community organizations.

Among the CBA principles is to offer up job and entrepreneurial opportunities to residents living in public housing nearby to the site.

“It [stopping the project] would be terrible. This project brings hope to all who live in the community,” said James Caldwell, president of BUILD (Brooklyn United for Innovative Development), one of the CBA signatories.

“People are really struggling. Everyday about 30 people come through our doors desparetely looking for jobs, and the CBA is open to all, even to the big influx of people being released from prison in upstate New York.”

Caldwell said that about 70-75 percent of black males living in the surrounding public housing are unemployed.

Borough President Marty Markowitz, long a proponent of the plan, expressed disappointment in the court decision, but remained optimistic that the project will be built.

“Projects like this one are catalysts for job creation and growth, and Atlantic Yards is a very important part of the effort to help Downtown Brooklyn, which is so well-served by public transit, become the kind of live-work hub and center of cultural life that our borough of 2.5 million has long deserved,” he said.

Updated 3:43 pm, October 19, 2011
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