Approaching the proposed site of the Atlantic Yards complex in Brooklyn on
the day after developer Bruce Ratner’s much-ballyhooed
announcement that construction work was starting on the $4 billion
project, all at first seems eerily unchanged.
On the corner of Atlantic and 5th, at the former site of the 19th-century
Underberg Building razed by Ratner last March, the lot is still vacant and
silent, a few old bricks poking up from the melting snow. Behind it, 179
Flatbush Avenue, marked for imminent demolition by the developer, stands
untouched but for the “pest control” signs that paper the windows.
On the next block, where the northern half of Ratner’s New Jersey Nets
arena would go, parked LIRR trains are still stacked up cheek to jowl.
(The southern half of the arena would go where several residences and
businesses now stand across Pacific Street, which is what has prompted the
first of several promised lawsuits against the project.) Another block
over, there’s plenty more nothing.
The action, such as it is, turns out to be at the far eastern end of the
site, between Carlton and Vanderbilt Avenues and maybe 20 feet below
street level. There, a Bobcat excavator and a Cat wheel loader are
breaking up the asphalt of an old parking lot, while a few men in orange
reflective vests look on desultorily from the sidelines. The Atlantic
Yards “groundbreaking” actually isn’t for any part of Ratner’s new
condo-arena-office empire, but for a new train yard to clear LIRR trains
from their current home at the western end of the site. Once that’s done,
Ratner can proceed to turn the heavily trafficked Atlantic and Flatbush
intersection into the home of his much-ridiculed
Miss Brooklyn office tower, with the arena behind it.
Once that’s done, of course, and the little matter of that lawsuit has
been settled. Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn activist Daniel Goldstein,
whose lonely buzzer on the front of the otherwise-depopulated Atlantic
Arts building is on its way to becoming a neighborhood tourist attraction,
says that Ratner can’t actually take possession of the site until a court
rules on the federal eminent domain lawsuit filed by his group last fall.
DDDB legal chief Candace Carponter is less certain, saying that while she
believes Ratner’s lease on the MTA rail yards doesn’t go into effect until
any eminent domain challenges are cleared away, she hasn’t been able to
get the MTA to cough up the actual documents. She hopes that a Freedom of
Information Law filing will soon produce them.
The real holdup, though, says Carponter, is that without an eminent-domain
verdict, they can’t touch the Atlantic Arts and other buildings housing
plaintiffs—though, she notes, Ratner could follow the lead of Norwood,
Ohio, where a city government intent on clearing a neighborhood of
single-family homes to make way for a condo-retail complex tore down the
houses of those who agreed to sell while leaving holdouts’ homes standing.
“They can start construction on the rail yards [part of the site], but if
so they’re doing it volunteer,” concludes Carponter, since the MTA likely
wouldn’t reimburse Ratner for work prepping the railyards if the larger
land grab falls through. “So I don’t know how far they’re going to go with
this until they win the eminent domain lawsuit.”