Timeline: Atlantic Yards Grows, Slows in Brooklyn

Updated: August 24, 2011 at 09:40 AM

Construction on Barclay's Center. State documents predicted there would be 1,620 construction jobs this summer. There are 543. Flickr/m_dougherty.

After eight years, Atlantic Yards developer Forest City Ratner is preparing to build the first of 16 promised residential buildings. Ratner has filed a permit with the Department of Buildings to create a 368-unit building, half of which will be designated for affordable housing.

Since 2003, when Ratner announced that it would build Atlantic Yards — a $2.5 billion development in Prospect Heights that would feature affordable housing, shopping and a new stadium — there has been heated debate over the project’s impact on the community.

The Atlantic Yards, which is the largest redevelopment project in recent New York City history, has been fraught with delays, financial and creative setbacks and political scandal from its early stages.

The following timeline was originally created by battleforbrooklyn.com, a website for the 2011 documentary about Atlantic Yard. It has been added to  and edited by MetroFocus.

August 8, 2003: The Times first reports that developer Bruce Ratner may buy the Nets and move the team to Brooklyn as part of a much larger development project.

December 11, 2003: Forest City Ratner announces a $2.5 billion development plan called “Atlantic Yards,” with 17 towers designed by architect Frank Gehry, including a projected 2.1 million square feet of commercial space and 4,500 residential units. Times architecture critic Herbert Muschamp praises the project lavishly and incorrectly refers to the site as an open railyard. He neglects to disclose that he has a prior relationship with FCR and that the newspaper’s parent company has a partnership with FCR. In a separate story, Bruce Ratner says that the project “will be almost exclusively privately financed.” FCR press materials use different terms: “The Arena will be primarily privately funded.”

May 14, 2004: The Daily News reports that all owners in Daniel Goldstein’s building have reached a settlement for Ratner to buy their apartments and vacate them.

May 17, 2005: FCR signs a housing Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the New York affiliate of the national housing group ACORN, pledging to maintain 50 percent of 4,500 rental units in the development as “affordable.” The MOU requires ACORN to publicly support the project in the press and at public meetings.

May 26, 2005: At a City Council Economic Development Committee Hearing, FCR VP Jim Stuckey announces a revised Atlantic Yards development plan, one that increases the price tag from $2.5 billion to $3.5 billion, and includes taller towers, higher density, less office space, and additional housing: up to 6,000 or as many as 7,300 units, from 4,500 units. This reduces the 50% “affordable” housing to 30 percent, a week later.  

June 27, 2005: FCR and eight groups sign a Community Benefits Agreement (CBA), a first in New York City.

July 23, 2005: The MTA reveals that Extell, a rival bidder for the railyards, has bid $150 million, three times the size of FCR’s $50 million bid.

July 25, 2005: The New York Observer reports that FCR is one of the top donors to the community group ACORN, its partner in the housing agreement.

July 27, 2005: The MTA votes to negotiate rights to the railyard with FCR exclusively, for 45 days, even though Extell has bid three times more money and both bids are well under the appraised value. (The MTA announces that the development rights have been appraised at $214.5 million).

August 29, 2005: Brooklyn’s Courier-Life newspaper chain reports that the job development group Brooklyn United for Innovative Local Development (BUILD), a signatory to the Community Benefits Agreement with FCR, has moved into a FCR-purchased building in the Atlantic Yards project footprint.

Sept. 14, 2005: The MTA awards the railyards to Forest City Ratner even though the $100 million bid is less than half the appraisal. MTA chair Peter Kalikow dismisses the appraiser his agency hired to valuate the railyards as “some guy.”

Sept. 16, 2005: The ESDC issues a Draft Scope for an environmental impact statement (EIS) regarding the project. The document reveals that the office space (and thus jobs) has been cut by two-thirds, and that 2800 luxury condos have been added to the 4500 rentals. The document also indicates that the formerly promised public park on the arena roof would be private space.

Sept. 29, 2005: DDDB releases Internal Revenue Service documents showing the fledgling job development group BUILD (Brooklyn United for Innovative Local Development), a major supplier of “community” backing at public meetings for FCR’s project, has claimed it will receive $5 million from the developer. BUILD denies any payments.

December 16, 2005: Forest City Ratner announces plans to demolish six properties within the project footprint. The company refuses efforts by local elected officials to have an independent engineer look at the buildings. Despite an engineer’s claims that the buildings were “an immediate threat to the preservation of life, health, and property,” it takes five weeks after receiving that report for the ESDC to approve the plan and for the developer to make any public statements.

Feb. 16, 2006: A look at the record of ESDC Chairman Charles Gargano raises concerns about the agency’s capacity to look objectively at the companies it works with. He recently said he knew nothing of any conflict of interest posed by the agency’s lawyer, didn’t know the agency rents space in a mall owned by Ratner, and endorsed the Atlantic Yards project without reservation, even before the environmental impact statement has been issued.

Feb. 28, 2006: ACORN’s Bertha Lewis vigorously defends the 50/50 housing plan in a charged panel discussion.

March 13, 2006: At a special investor event, CEO Bruce Ratner tells investors in the parent Forest City Enterprises that he expects goverment approval by mid-fall and construction to commence a few months after that.

March 28, 2006: Atlantic Yards Report analyzes the “$6 billion lie,” Forest City Ratner’s repeated claim that the project would bring $6 billion in revenues to the city and state.

April 6, 2006: Albany grants $100 million for Ratner’s proposal

May 11, 2006: Ratner mails brochure to hundreds of thousands of Brooklyn households. The brochure shows no towers, and the arena rendering from the birds-eye view makes it look like a grassy park.

October 21, 2006: DDDB 2nd annual Walkathon raises over $100,000 for legal fight against Atlantic Yards.

October 26, 2006: Brooklyn property owners and tenants file federal emient domain lawsuit against Ratner, Gov. Pataki, ESDC head Charles Gargano, Mayor Bloomberg and Deputy Mayor Doctoer. Daniel Goldstein is lead plaintiff in the case titled Goldstein v. Pataki.

November 15, 2006: ESDC approves the final EIS

December 20, 2006: Little known state entity, the Public Authorities Control Board (PACB), which is controlled by Albany’s Three Men in a Room, gives final approval to the project and its financing. 

January 17, 2007: Ratner announces arena naming rights deal with Barclays Bank. It is rumored that the naming rights have been sold for $400 million

January 29, 2007: NY City doubles direct taxpayer subsidy to the project from $100 million to $205 million.

March 19, 2007: NY State lobbying 2006 report shows Ratner was the 3rd biggest lobbyist in the state, spending $2.11 million for the year.

April 5, 2007: DDDB and 25 co-petitioner community groups file lawsuit, in New York State Supreme Court, against the ESDC, PACB, MTA and FCR seeking to annul the Atlantic Yards environmental impact statement and overall approval of the project.

June 6, 2007: Documents show more than half of the financing Atlantic Yards project is government backed. The developer is seeking at least $1.4 billion in tax-exempt housing bonds.

November 26, 2007: Major security flaw revealed in Atlantic Yards Plan—arena setback only 20 feet from congested intersection of Flatbush and Atlantic Avenues. 

February 11, 2008: Forest City Ratner puts $58,000 into New York Democratic Assembly Campaign Committee “housekeeping” fund.

May 5, 2008: Yet more new renderings are released by FCR and Frank Gehry, only this time the renderings show only Phase 1 of the project, leaving out Phase 2 which was to include the vast majority of the proposed affordable housing.

June 23, 2008: US Supreme Court declines to hear Goldstein v. Pataki eminent domain case, though Justice Alito writes that he wants to take the case. The plaintiffs vow to take their case to NY State court to challenge improper use of eminent domain under NY State law.

September 15, 2008: Lehman Brothers collapses, files for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

October 2, 2008: Mayor Bloomberg announces that he will seek to extend the city’s term limits law and run for a third mayoral term in 2009.

October 6 – 10, 2008: The Dow Jones Industrial Average closes lower for all 5 sessions. The industrial average falls over 1,874 points, or 18 percent, in its worst weekly decline ever on both a point and percentage basis.

December 4, 2008: Ratner announces a halt to all work within the Atlantic Yards footprint due to financial difficulties.

December 17, 2008: Frank Gehry lays off all of his Atlantic Yards staff.

February 26, 2009: State Appellate Court rules for ESDC on community’s EIS appeal. One judge, clearly skeptical about NY State’s blight claim as basis for the project, writes: “Because I believe that the New York Urban Development Corporation Act is ultimately being used as a tool of the developer to displace and destroy neighborhoods that are ‘underutilized,’ I write separately. I recognize that long-standing and substantial precedent requires a high level of deference to the Empire State Development Corporation’s finding of blight. Reluctantly, therefore I am compelled to accept the majority’s conclusion that there is sufficient evidence of ‘blight’ in the record under this standard of review. However, I reject the majority’s core reasoning, that a perfunctory ‘blight study’ performed years after the conception of a vast development project should serve as the rational basis for a determination that a neighborhood is indeed blighted.”

May 15, 2009: NY Appellate Court rules against home, business owners and tenants in eminent domain lawsuit. Plaintiffs vow to ask the state’s highest court, the Court of Appeals, to stop NY State from seizing their properties by eminent domain.

June 24th, 2009: MTA Board approves new rail yard sale deal with Ratner. New deal allows Ratner to pay $20 million up front for the Vanderbilt Rail Yards rather than the $100 million he had committed to. The $80 million balance will be paid over 25 years at a low interest rate.

June 30, 2009: New York’s highest court, the Court of Appeals, annonces that it will hear the eminent domain case, with argument scheduled for October 14, 2009.

September 9, 2009: Ratner releases new design for the arena, by hot NYC architecture firm SHoP. Six years into the project and the only design is for the arena, not any of the promised affordable housing, or any other part of the project.

September 10, 2009: The Daily News reports that Ratner hopes to have the entire project, which includes 16 office and residential towers, done in 10 years – but acknowledged it could take as long as 25.  “I don’t know” if the 10-year time line will pan out, he said. “Our job is to get this done as fast as possible.” Ratner vowed to begin construction on the arena by the end of the year.

September 15, 2009: In a landslide, Councilwoman Letitia James wins her second full term in office against her opponent Delia Hunley-Adossa. Ms. Hunley-Adossa is the chairwoman of the Atlantic Yards community benefit agreement group.

September 18, 2009: ESDC sends a letter with a “good faith offer” to Daniel Goldstein for his home, before taking it, as the law requires. The offer is about 40 percent less than the fair market value of the three-bedroom apartment.

September 23, 2009: With Atlantic Yards “on life support,” according to the Times’s Charles Bagli, Ratner sells 80 percent of the Nets and 45 percent of the arena to Russian oligarch Mikhail Prokhorov. Prokhorov also gets the option to purchase 20 percent of the non-arena part of the project.

November 3, 2009:  Mayor Bloomberg wins a third term, beating City Comptroller Bill Thompson 50.7 percent to  46.3 percent, a much closer election than most people expected. Thompson wins a majority in Brooklyn.

November 8, 2009: In a Crain’s New York article Bruce Ratner says, “Why should people get to see [Atlantic Yards] plans? This isn’t a public project.”

November 24, 2009: New York’s high court, the Court of Appeals, rules against property owners and tenants in the final eminent domain case. The state now has no legal bar from seizing the properties by eminent domain.

December 23, 2009: Forest City Ratner completes a master closing for Atlantic Yards. Two days before Christmas, the ESDC files the final round of legal papers to take title to footprint properties and evict the remaining residents and businesses. 

January 6, 2010: Forest City Ratner appears as unindicted, unnamed “Developer No. 2” in a federal corruption and bribery indictment against political officials in Yonkers involving the construction of Ratner’s Ridge Hill project in that city.

March 1, 2010: Judge Abraham Gerges makes final approval of eminent domain and title is transferred from owners to the ESDC which will eventually give the properties to Ratner. Daniel Goldstein no longer owns his home.

March 11, 2010: Ratner holds a groundbreaking ceremony at the project site. No elected officials from the area attend, and very few Brooklyn elected officials attend. Mayor Bloomberg, Marty Markowitz, and Governor Paterson, along with Jay Z (a less than 1% owner of the Nets) and Beyonce are in attendance. Reverend Daughtry delivers a benediction.
Outside the groundbreaking, hundreds of protestors demonstrate. Police presence is heavy, including helicopters and snipers. The event is peaceful, but the police arrest one protestor for playing a drum.

April 14, 2010: After Peter Williams, a property owner, and Freddy’s Bar settle with Ratner to move out without an eviction hearing, Daniel Goldstein and his family are the last remaining residents and former owners in the arena footprint.

April 21, 2010: An eviction hearing starts at 10am in Judge Abraham Gerges Supreme Court courtroom in Downtown Brooklyn (in a building owned by Forest City Ratner).  Judge Gerges makes it clear to both sides that he wants a settlement on an eviction date and  “just compensation” for Daniel Goldstein’s home.  Forest City, by way of ESDC attorney Charles Webb, continues to try to make Daniel agree to a complete gag order.  After six hours, a settlement is reached which preserves Daniel’s right to free speech.

May 7, 2010: Daniel Goldstein, his wife and child move out of their condo apartment. They move about 3 blocks south from their home.

September 21, 2010: It is revealed in the Wall Street Journal and the Atlantic Yards Report that Ratner is seeking to raise $250 million for the project from mainly Chinese lenders utilizing the little know federal EB-5 program. In return for $500,000, each lender would get green cards for all family members. Watchdog journalist Norman Oder begins a blog series, “Anatomy of a Shady Deal,” which thoroughly explains how the EB-5 program is being misused by Forest City Ratner—the program’s intention of job creation is being used by the developer to simply pad his bottom line.

December 16, 2010: ESDC documents show interim surface parking for up to 25 years on the site. 

February 1, 2011: According to Forest City Ratner, there are 150 people working at the project site, 19 of them are local residents. They had promised 10,000 jobs.

February 4, 2011: Freddy’s Bar reopens in south Park Slope.

March 9, 2011: Forest City Ratner lobbyist Richard Lipsky, and close political ally State Senator Carl Kruger are indicted on federal corruption and bribery charges. FCR Senior VP/Lobbyist Bruce Bender is the unnamed employee of “Developer #1” who appears in the indictment within transcripts of a wiretap on Kruger’s phones. Bender is looking for money from the Senator to pay for two projects, one of which is rebuilding the Carlton Avenue bridge which FCR demolished for the project.  When Kruger says he can only get him money for one project, Bender replies that he “doesn’t mind fucking the bridge.” The bridge his company took down is at a critical traffic and pedestrian point for five neighborhoods.

March 17, 2011: NY Times reveals that FCR is seriously considering using prefab modular construction for the towers planned for Atlantic Yards. Doing so would severely reduce the number of construction jobs and the promise of union labor.

July 13, 2011: State Supreme Court Justice Marcy Friedman rules that Empire State Development Corp. failed to conduct a thorough review of the environmental impact of developer Forest City Ratner’s Atlantic Yards project in 2009. The state development corporation is ordered to conduct another environmental review.

July 18, 2011: The New York Times reports that Barclays Center stadium is expected to be completed by September, 2012, and has sold half of its corporate suites. To date, the project has employed a total of 430 people.

July 22: Prospect Heights Patch reports that major changes to traffic patterns surrounding the Atlantic Yards site will be implemented on July 31. Many nearby residents are angered by the changes, since they will likely bring heavier traffic to once quiet, residential parts of Prospect Heights and Park Slope.

July 28: The New York Daily News reports that there are only 217 local construction jobs at the Atlantic Yards site, far short of the 1,620 jobs previously predicted by state documents. Many construction workers — long-standing supporters of the controversial project — are becoming disillusioned and angry.

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