Thursday, June 09, 2005

Unlike Stadium on West Side, an Arena in Brooklyn Is Still a Go

New York Times

Unlike Stadium on West Side, an Arena in Brooklyn Is Still a Go

Suzanne DeChillo/The New York Times
Opponents helped stop a football stadium on the Far West Side of Manhattan. But so far, those against a new basketball arena in Brooklyn, like protesters on Tuesday fighting the plan and high-rises in Prospect Heights, have not derailed the project.

Published: June 9, 2005
As Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg's plan for a Far West Side stadium was going down to defeat this spring, another major plan for a sports arena was quietly coming to fruition in Brooklyn.

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Andrea Mohin/The New York Times
The proposed 20,000-seat basketball arena for the Nets' move to Brooklyn.

Like the ill-fated football stadium plan for the Jets, the Brooklyn basketball arena, planned for the Nets by its team owner, the developer Bruce Ratner, would be subsidized by hundreds of millions in taxpayer dollars and include ambitious redevelopment projects in the surrounding area. It would also be an imposing presence near neighborhoods known for their political activism. And the arena, though strongly backed by the mayor, would most likely require approval of the same obscure state group, the Public Authorities Control Board, which voted to kill the West Side stadium proposal on Monday.

Yet, in a reflection of the relatively smooth sailing the Brooklyn project has enjoyed, one of two men on that board who scuttled the West Side plan this week, Senate Majority Leader Joseph L. Bruno, indicated yesterday that he would support the new arena for the Nets, who would move to Brooklyn from New Jersey. The other, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, said yesterday that he would be far less likely to stand in its way, since it would not hurt business in his Lower Manhattan district.

While the Brooklyn plan still has hurdles, its progress so far is providing an object lesson in how to navigate big projects through the often treacherous and choppy waters of New York state and city politics. In the Brooklyn project, backers have aggressively courted the local community since the project's inception, trying to placate those who could be its most aggressive foes. Perhaps most important, they have reached out to Mr. Silver.

"They worked more cooperatively and openly with elected officials and community leaders," said City Council Speaker Gifford Miller, a mayoral candidate who supports the Brooklyn plan and had become an ardent critic of the West Side stadium plan. "Rather than just saying, look, here it is, now we're going to bring everything we can to bear on you to agree," Mr. Miller said, "I think there was more of a give and take."

In the post-mortems of the failed West Side stadium plan, critics asserted this week that the Jets and the city's point man on the project, Deputy Mayor Daniel L. Doctoroff, had erred by first trying to sidestep state legislators, then building a coalition of supporters too late - most notably failing to court Mr. Silver early enough to win his backing and allay his concerns that the West Side redevelopment plan would hurt efforts to revive Lower Manhattan.

Mr. Bloomberg's aides asserted that Mr. Silver was going to vote against the plan no matter when they began courting him. And even stadium opponents credited the Jets with ultimately building a broad coalition that included both the Rev. Al Sharpton and former Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani. But that coalition did not come together until quite recently, long after a key opponent, Cablevision, had begun running advertisements against the West Side stadium.

In contrast, the company building the Brooklyn arena and a large adjoining residential complex, Forest City Ratner - which is also the development partner of The New York Times for its new headquarters in Midtown - took early pains to keep similar opposition from building. As soon as it set about devising its plan in early 2002, it brought aboard a seasoned team of lobbyists who immediately went to work building support among political leaders, especially Mr. Silver.

The developers went public with their plan in December 2003. In announcing the plan, Mr. Ratner described a $2.5 billion project designed by Frank Gehry atop the Atlantic Terminal railway hub.

Opposition to Mr. Ratner's plan emerged quickly, with preservationists and neighborhood groups forming organizations including the Prospect Heights Action Coalition and Develop Don't Destroy. They called rallies, they covered brownstone Brooklyn with fliers and they drafted alternate development plans, arguing the Ratner plan would flood the neighborhood with traffic and overwhelm a low-density area.

Al Baker and Michael Cooper contributed reporting for this article.

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