Empire State Development Corp. approves project

Updated: December 8, 2006, 5:55 PM ET
Associated Press

NEW YORK -- New Jersey Nets owner Bruce Ratner's much-debated Atlantic Yards development project was approved Friday by the Empire State Development Corp., a major step forward in his bid to move the team to Brooklyn.

The $4 billion project -- which would reshape Brooklyn with a basketball arena, office towers and thousands of apartments -- was approved by EDC in a decision that was hailed by Gov. George Pataki and Mayor Michael Bloomberg. The next step is a final review by the state Public Authorities Control Board.

The project, designed by renowned architect Frank Gehry, would rise above a downtown Brooklyn railyard. It would include a new sports arena for the New Jersey Nets, and 16 surrounding towers with housing, a hotel and office and retail space.

The tallest building would rise 58 stories above the railyard. The project would also bring a major league sports franchise back to the borough for the first time since the Dodgers bolted for Los Angeles in 1957.

"This project is vital to the resurgence of downtown Brooklyn and is unique in its ambition, blending residential, retail, commercial and entertainment on a grand scale," said Dan Doctoroff, the city's deputy mayor for economic development.

Empire's chairman, Charles A. Gargano, announced approval of the project after a Friday afternoon vote by the corporation board. He said the board voted on three aspects of Atlantic Yards, approving the general plan, an environmental impact statement and the use of eminent domain for the property.

Jim Stuckey, an executive vice president with Forest City Ratner Companies and the president of the Atlantic Yards Development Group, hailed the vote.

"We have worked very hard over the last three-plus years to ensure that a large and diverse group of community groups and leaders were included from the start in this exciting project," Stuckey said.

The project is expected to go before the Public Authorities Board for final approval before the end of the year. It was that powerful board that undermined the proposed West Side stadium.

The development, which has spawned contentious public hearings and endless debate, also faces a federal lawsuit from Brooklyn property owners and tenants who charged that the seizure of their property under eminent domain was unconstitutional.

The project is expected to create almost 22,000 jobs during the 10-year construction period. Once finished, it is expected to create more than 5,000 more jobs, while generating $944 million in state tax revenues.

But opponents of the plan said the project's scale and striking design -- with undulating glass towers of varying size and angles -- would transform the image of predominantly low-rise and brownstone Brooklyn neighborhoods while creating a traffic nightmare.

A great deal of the opposition has emerged from neighborhoods bordering on the project -- and if it proceeds, underneath it.

Supporters suggest the opposition is distinctly local and fueled by transplanted Manhattanites. Developers have the backing of Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Pataki and the vast majority of the City Council, state Assembly and Senate.

They also have a key partner -- the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now -- a national advocate for low- and middle-income urban families that focuses on such issues as lowering crime, improving schools and creating affordable housing.


Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press