Coordinates: The Atlantic Yards is a mixed-use commercial and residential development project of 16 high-rise buildings, currently proposed in the neighborhood of Prospect Heights, adjacent to Downtown Brooklyn and Fort Greene in Brooklyn, New York City. A portion of the project is part of the Atlantic Terminal Urban Renewal Area (abbreviated as ATURA), and the rest is located in a low-rise brownstone neighborhood.
The centerpiece of the development, according to the developers, would be the Barclays Center, which would serve as the new home of the New Jersey Nets. Of the 22-acre (89,000 m2) project, 8.4 acres (34,000 m2) would be built over a train yard that is utilized by the Long Island Rail Road, and a portion of the site was a part of the Atlantic Terminal Urban Renewal Area.
The project derives its name from being the rail yard located on Atlantic Avenue. Officially the Long Island Rail Road yard is called the "Vanderbilt Yards" (named for Vanderbilt Avenue that crosses over on its way to the Brooklyn Navy Yard) but there are other Vanderbilt rail place names in New York City so the Atlantic Yards name has stuck. The specific stop for the LIRR is the Atlantic Terminal, the westernmost stop of the Atlantic Branch of the LIRR. Easy access by rapid transit and suburban rail, and the desirable brownstone housing stock nearby made it a target for speculative development.
The project is often considered the most controversial in New York. While the fierce opposition to the environmental effects has spawned several legal battles, the real threat to the completion of the project is the credit crisis and the weakening housing market. Despite the reliance on public subsidies for such a risky project, preparatory sitework in anticipation of construction started February 20, 2007.
The Atlantic Yards project is being developed and overseen by Forest City Ratner of Cleveland, Ohio and the original design was by architect Frank Gehry.. Gehry was removed from the project in June 2009. Since September 2009, the new design has been a collaboration between Ellerbe Becket and the Manhattan architectural firm SHoP.
In March 2008, principal developer Bruce Ratner acknowledged that the slowing economy may delay construction of both the office and residential components of the project for several years. The uncertain economy and vagueness of the developer's statements have led NY City Comptroller Bill Thompson to state "I’m not sure what that project is any longer."
Clearance was given on June 23, 2008, when the Supreme Court of the United States refused to hear an appeal of the eviction notices and in November 2009, the project cleared what the New York Times called the "final major obstacle" when the New York Court of Appeals dismissed a challenge to the project's use of eminent domain. When the project was announced at the end of 2003, the basketball arena was scheduled to open in the fall of 2006.
A groundbreaking ceremony was held on the site on March 11, 2010.
The Barclays Center would serve as the new home of the National Basketball Association’s New Jersey Nets, which was purchased by a group led by principal developer Bruce Ratner with the intention of making it and the arena the centerpiece of the whole project. This would bring major league professional sports to Brooklyn for the first time since the Brooklyn Dodgers moved to Los Angeles, California after the 1957 season. (Ironically, the Atlantic Yards site is adjacent to the site suggested by then Dodgers owner Walter O'Malley as a potential site for a baseball park before the Dodgers moved to Los Angeles. Robert Moses said that a sports arena here would create a "China Wall of traffic.") The arena’s design includes an ice skating rink and private park space on its roof. The arena represents about 10% of the Ratner proposal.
The naming rights to the arena were purchased by Barclays, the British bank, for a record-setting price of nearly $400 million over 20 years. This eclipsed the previous record for naming rights to an American indoor arena. The previous record, set by Royal Philips Electronics in 1999, was for $185 million over 20 years paid to name Philips Arena in Atlanta.
The proceeds of the naming rights will go to the developer, not to the state of New York, which would nominally own the land.
The largest portion of the proposal is high-rise apartment buildings. Of the 6,430 units, 1,930 will be market-rate condominiums. The remaining 4,500 will be rental units, half of which will be set aside for moderate, middle, and low income households. The project defines "moderate income" as families earning $49,600 to $131,600 per year. An undisclosed number of apartments will be available for those earning less than $15,000 per year. The median income for Brooklyn is $32,135.
Given the uncertainty of the financial markets, it is unclear when these units would be completed, what the amount of taxpayer subsidies per unit, or if there are enough government bond financing available to subsidize the developer. In any case, the developer has succeeded in removing most of housing that used to exist in the project footprint. In April 2008, the remaining tenants in the footprint sued the state, charging that their properties are threatened with eminent domain condemnation despite the developer's failure to comply with the timelines required by eminent domain law.
At the Manhattan average of 1.93 people per housing unit, Atlantic Yards would become home to about 12,410 people, while if the density is closer to the city-wide average of 2.63 people per housing unit, about 16,910 people can be expected to move in by completion of the project. Either way, since Atlantic Yards sits on 22 acres (89,000 m2), it can be expected to become the most densely populated census tract in North America, with a density of 361,000 to 490,000 people per square mile, about twice the density of the current densest census tract in the United States, a block in Manhattan west of Broadway and between West 133rd and West 135th Streets, which as of the 2000 Census had a population density of 229,713 inhabitants per square mile. By comparison, the most densely populated neighborhood in the world is Mongkok in Hong Kong, where density exceeds 410,000 inhabitants per square mile.
The remaining buildings in the Atlantic Yards would be used for office space and retail development.
The development sits on the most congested intersection in Brooklyn. According to the Environmental Impact Statement, the addition of more than 15,000 new residents would not significantly impact vehicular traffic, a claim contested by the Council of Brooklyn Neighborhoods.
The Atlantic Yards would be above the Atlantic Avenue–Pacific Street subway station, the largest train station in Brooklyn and the third largest transit hub in New York City, serving ten different New York City Subway lines.
The site of the Atlantic Yards is currently served by five bus lines, B41, B45, B63, B65 and B67. However, bus routes change throughout the years, and may be changed to accommodate the Atlantic Yards project.
The proposed development rests at one of the most desirable neighborhoods in New York City. Prospect Heights has seen remarkable explosion of real estate values, pushing out many of the less affluent residents. Critics charge that the few unused buildings are "developer's blight," that is to say, buildings bought by Forest City Ratner and then left vacant.
The bulk of the 22-acre (89,000 m2) project site is a mixture of public streets, private homes and small businesses. Forest City Ratner has bought much of this private property, but does not own the public streets and intends to use eminent domain to seize the remaining property from private homeowners and businesses. The Public Authorities Control Board, which effectively ended the West Side Stadium plan, approved the Atlantic Yards plan and use of eminent domain. However, the plan still faces lawsuits from residents.
The area of Atlantic Yards has been slated for redevelopment in the past, but plans for the area have never coalesced. In the mid-1950s, Brooklyn Dodgers owner Walter O'Malley wanted to use the city to condemn the area in his favor, allowing him to build a new stadium for the ballclub to replace Ebbets Field. City developer Robert Moses refused to consider an eminent domain taking for a private use, and the plan was shelved. Although O'Malley had several local options, he relocated the Dodgers to Los Angeles instead. Los Angeles offered him free land and a free hand in developing it including mineral rights, incurring the long-term hatred of Brooklynites.
The main controversy concerning the development of the Atlantic Yards remains the use of eminent domain which would destroy a low-density neighborhood containing an undisclosed number of multi-million dollar townhouses and pre-war apartment buildings subject to rent stabilization regulations. Forest City Ratner offer the condo owners in 636 Pacific St. $850/sq. foot, the condo owners at 24 Sixth Ave (Spalding Buildings) $650/sq. foot and undisclosed amounts to renters. Sellers of condos signed a non disclosure agreement.
Another controversial aspect of the development is that the rail yard was valued at $214 million in 2005, and is in contract with the favored developer for $100 million, despite another bid for $150 million. Even though this property was appraised at $214 million in 2004, the MTA decided to negotiate exclusively with Forest City Ratner, which originally bid $50 million. Extell Corporation bid $150 million, and FCR eventually boosted its bid to $100 million. The Extell bid, however, was contingent on a contract for the company to provide energy to the city from a power plant that would have been constructed in the location. Professional appraisers are quick to point out that there has been no prior transaction anywhere in the country that has approached the complexity, scale, and cost of the rail yard. This inherently limited the accuracy of any appraisal.
An important community concern is that Forest City Ratner submitted an environmental impact plan that many experts have deemed inadequate. Forest City Ratner's lead developer James L. Stuckey recently resigned citing a desire to "pursue new challenges."
The project is endorsed by the MTA and Mayor Michael Bloomberg, has been strongly supported by Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz, who sees this project as the opportunity to produce finally the business district in Brooklyn that was intended with the construction of the Williamsburgh Savings Bank Tower but was halted by the Great Depression. Governor George Pataki, U.S. Senator Charles Schumer, Congressman Edolphus Towns, Congressman Gregory W. Meeks, Congressman Anthony Weiner, and Comptroller William C. Thompson, Jr. have also supported the project as necessary for the economic development of Brooklyn and New York City.
The most vocal opposition group is a nonprofit named Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn. Three of the four local elected representatives in the neighborhood also oppose the project, especially New York City Council member Letitia James. Other organizations that are opposed to or seek to scale back the project include: 100 Blacks in Law Enforcement, Boerum Hill Association (BHA), Central Brooklyn Independent Democrats (CBID), Committee For Environmentally Sound Development, Creative Industries Coalition (80 local businesses, galleries and collectives), Democracy for New York City (DFNYC), and Congressional candidate Kevin Powell. Newark mayor Corey Booker has openly campaigned for the New Jersey Nets to abandon plans to play at Atlantic Yards, and instead to relocate permanently to the Prudential Center in downtown Newark, already home to the New Jersey Devils and Seton Hall Pirates.