Empire State Development Corp. approves project

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.