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Mike BarryEye on the Island

By Mike Barry
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Brooklyn Nets Win

Should the NBA’s New Jersey Nets relocate to Brooklyn, history will record their first victory of the 2009-2010 season came in a courtroom, rather than on a court.

The New York State Court of Appeals, the state’s highest court, ruled, 6-1, late last month in favor of the Empire State Development Corporation’s (ESDC) bid to exercise the state’s power of eminent domain to make way for construction of the proposed Barclays Center near the intersection of Atlantic and Flatbush Avenues. The decision was remarkable because city residents who cherish the sight of underutilized properties with extraordinary access to mass transit have prevailed in the past.

The New York Jets’ plans to move to Manhattan, for instance, were thwarted in 2005 by two state lawmakers. The Jets are now doomed to spend eternity with the Giants in New Jersey’s Meadowlands. The Nets play in the Meadowlands’ Izod Center, a locale convenient to East Rutherford, NJ residents. If the Nets come to Brooklyn, eight of the LIRR’s nine lines will travel directly to their new home court. Moreover, within the Barclays Center, plans call for the creation of the Cushman & Wakefield Theater, an intimate venue for musical acts and other live shows.

The 18,000-seat Barclays Center, however, is to be the centerpiece of a public-private redevelopment of 22 acres that most Court of Appeals judges agreed was largely ‘blighted’ as defined under state law.

In siding with the ESDC, the Court’s majority observed that numerous private property owners in the area have voluntarily sold their parcels to Forest City Ratner Companies (FCRC) since 2003, when FCRC’s ambitious proposal was first unveiled. Bruce Ratner, FCRC’s chairman and CEO, is the Nets’ majority owner.

The public benefits accruing from the so-called Atlantic Yards project would include the reconfiguration and modernization of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s (MTA) nearby bus and rail facilities.

“The project will also involve construction of a platform spanning the rail yards and connecting portions of the neighborhood now separated by the rail cut,” Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman wrote. Numerous high rise buildings, housing up to 6,000 dwelling units, were to be constructed atop this platform. More than a third of these units are earmarked for either low or middle income families, although the residential project’s overall size will likely be scaled back amid the economic downturn.

The property-owning holdouts within a two-plus block area that is narrowly defined within the Court’s decision will now be required to sell their land to the ESDC, at rates reflecting current market value.

The Brooklyn Arena Local Development Corporation (BALDC), an ESDC subsidiary, will own the Barclays Center as well as the property underneath the Center. Meanwhile, ArenaCo, an FCRC subsidiary, will lease the Barclays Center from the BALDC, and ArenaCo will make payments to the BALDC in lieu of taxes to service the debt on the bonds the BALDC is issuing to finance the Barclays Centers’ construction.

There is momentum behind the Nets to Brooklyn movement but some complicating factors, too. The NBA’s board of governors, for instance, must approve Ratner’s sale of his stake in the Nets to Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov. Still, the ball is moving in the right direction.

Mike Barry, a corporate communications consultant, has worked in government and journalism.

Mike Barry, a corporate communications consultant, has worked in government and journalism. Email: MFBARRY@optonline.net