NY transportation group to negotiate solely with Nets
NEW YORK -- The New Jersey Nets moved a step closer to New York on Wednesday when the Metropolitan Transportation Authority voted to enter exclusive negotiations with team owner Bruce Ratner, who wants to build a towering arena complex over an MTA railyard near downtown Brooklyn.
The MTA board gave Ratner 45 days to increase his $50 million cash bid for the eight-acre railyard, which the agency has had appraised at $214 million.
Ratner has offered the MTA tens of millions of dollars in added inducements such as railyard improvements to persuade the nation's largest mass transit system to sell him the property. Board members nonetheless called his bid far below what they expected.
"The dollars involved with the Ratner proposal are unacceptable," board member Barry Feinstein said.
Despite its reservations, the board voted 13-1 on Wednesday to keep Ratner on a timeline that could have the Nets playing in his Frank Gehry arena on Flatbush Avenue by November 2008, making them Brooklyn's first professional team since 1957, when the Dodgers fled to California.
Ratner was "very grateful" to the MTA board, said Jim Stuckey, the executive vice president of the developer's Forest City Ratner Cos.
"I think there will be a positive outcome," he said.
The vote sidelined a last-minute $150 million bid from Manhattan-based Extell Development Co., which wants to build a project less than half the size of the Gehry-designed 21-acre office and apartment development Ratner envisions.
"We believe we should have been given the same opportunity," Extell president Gary Barnett said.
Arena opponents called the vote confirmation that political influence has tipped the MTA's decision-making process in favor of Ratner, whose plan to bring the Nets to Brooklyn has the support of Gov. George Pataki and Mayor Michael Bloomberg. The governor and the mayor effectively control the MTA board.
"It seems the MTA never had any intention of having a truly competitive process," said Daniel Goldstein, a spokesman for Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn, a group of residents from the wealthier brownstone neighborhoods adjoining the railyards.
Building trades unions and residents of the poorer neighborhoods and housing projects near the proposed arena site have been supportive of the plan, which promises to use union labor and minority contractors and build more than 2,000 low- and middle-income apartments, about a third of the project's housing stock.
The city and state have promised as much as $200 million in public money for the arena project. Ratner has said he would use all of it for his project, while Extell said it would use $150 million.
A provision of Forest City Ratner's memorandum of understanding with the city and state also allows the company to request additional public funds for what the agreement calls extraordinary infrastructure costs. Forest City's proposal to the MTA identifies $163 million in such costs, including $99 million for building a platform over the railyard and $14 million for constructing public open space.
Forest City Ratner spokesman Joe DePlasco said the company will not request city or state funds to cover any of those $163 million in costs, despite the provision allowing it to do so.
Also Wednesday, MTA executive director Katherine Lapp suggested that the board spend hundreds of millions of dollars from an unexpected budget surplus to build its own platform over the West Side railyards where the New York Jets had proposed building a stadium. The MTA could then put the more easily developed site up for bid, Lapp wrote to the board.
Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press
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