GAME PLAN FOR NEW DOWNTOWN
By PATRICK GALLAHUE and GERSH KUNTZMAN
December 11, 2003 -- Developer Bruce Ratner upped the ante on his bid to own the New Jersey Nets yesterday - unveiling a Frank Gehry-designed basketball arena that would remake the heart of downtown Brooklyn.
The 20,000-seat arena is part of a controversial $2.5 billion development that also includes Manhattan-sized office and residential towers that would dwarf existing buildings and, critics contend, overwhelm the low-rise communities of Fort Greene and Prospect Heights.
Mayor Bloomberg, on hand to unveil the project yesterday at Brooklyn Borough Hall, admitted that Ratner's $275 million bid for the Nets was "not a slam dunk" over a $267.5 million offer by Sen. Jon Corzine and developer Charles Kushner.
"But this is the place for a professional basketball team," the mayor said, referring to Corzine and Kushner's plans to keep the team at the Meadowlands, where it draws small crowds.
"We will be successful," Ratner added, pounding the podium at Borough Hall for effect. "We are going to get the Nets to Brooklyn if it's the last thing I do."
Kushner and Corzine declined to comment.
Ratner said the project would not require direct city funding, but the developer said he would borrow against future taxes generated by ticket sales, a common funding scheme.
"I think that's appropriate," Bloomberg said. "This city does not have enough classrooms. But that doesn't mean we can't help with financing [the deal]."
Unlike fellow billionaire Corzine, Bloomberg said he would only be putting his political weight behind the project.
"I cannot make any investment because it would be a conflict of interest," he said.
Rapper Jay-Z also showed up yesterday and claimed he was an investor in the project.
The Gehry-designed stadium would be an oval, 800,000-square-foot structure with a rooftop "beer garden" and running track for public use that would be frozen over in the winter for skating.
The signature feature of the structure would be its open feel, with the sides of the arena covered in glass.
The arena's appearance is a departure from the wavy, metal-clad design Gehry has popularized in recent years. But other parts of the complex probably will follow the now-familiar theme.
At the corner of Atlantic and Flatbush avenues, a cafe would hover above the street in a glass box.
The arena would be surrounded on all sides by office towers, one of which would rise to 630-feet - dwarfing the Williamsburg Bank Building, currently the tallest building in Brooklyn.
The eastern half of the Ratner project - which would mostly be built over a rail yard - includes 4.4 million square feet of residential buildings, comprising 4,500 units.
Gehry made a rare appearance in New York to show off the still-unfinished architectural models himself.
"These are just blocks," he said, pointing to the oddly shaped mock-up for the office towers surrounding the arena. "But don't worry, we'll make something nice out of it."
Outside Borough Hall, a lot of people were indeed worried that Ratner and Gehry's vision for tall office towers and an arena could never be "something nice."
"They'd be condemning land to hand it over to a rich developer," said Patti Hagan of the Prospect Heights Action Coalition. "Eminent domain is supposed to be reserved for vital public purposes. This is the Manhattanization of Brooklyn."
Several nearby residential and commercial buildings would be condemned to make room for the arena - including two recently renovated luxury buildings.
Of course, none of Ratner's vision will become reality if his bid for the Nets falls through. The team's current ownership is expected to make a decision within two months.
"If we don't get the team, there will be no project," Ratner said.
HOOP DREAMS: Designer Frank Gehry's concept for a downtown Brooklyn arena includes a roof garden that could be frozen over in winter to create an ice-skating rink.