The city and state are kicking in $100 million each in cash to help Ratner; tax breaks could push the public bill to anywhere from $500 million to $1.5 billion. Doctoroff says he drove a hard bargain: “They wanted a lot more money.” Still, this is a major point of contention for Ratner’s critics, who want to know exactly how much Ratner will profit in his quest to help Brooklyn. Despite the Ratner team’s claims of transparency—“I don’t know, other than to have people sitting in my office, how you could make it any more transparent!” Stuckey says—FCR refuses to discuss how much it expects to clear, saying it’s a public company and can’t risk accusations it’s manipulating the stock price. The only public documentation of profit appears to be a nearly illegible one-page form filed with the MTA labeled pro-forma cash-flow statement. It seems to show Ratner with a profit of $1 billion. Real-estate expert Jeffrey Jackson ran all the available Atlantic Yards numbers and came to the same rough conclusion. “It’s difficult to quantify the profitability of the arena,” Jackson says, “and the return will be impacted by the final mix of financing. But Ratner should make around $700 million to $1 billion—about a 25 percent return. That’s pretty good.”
Across the street from the office of State Assemblyman Roger Green are the blank rear walls of Ratner’s Atlantic Center. That proximity is a constant reminder to Green that when Ratner built Atlantic Center, Green and local activists were too slow to take to the streets and protest and got little out of the deal for the district. This time, when talk of Ratner and the Nets started circulating, Green vowed that things would be different. “In the past, we, particularly African-American leadership—we’d sit back and throw bricks, we’d march and demonstrate. Then the ribbons were cut anyhow,” Green says. “I would abdicate my responsibilities if I didn’t sit down with Mr. Ratner. We needed to get to the table as soon as possible. Not so much to capitulate but to at least negotiate.”
Green had helped launch a group called BUILD, Brooklyn United for Innovative Local Development, which became one of the most enthusiastic signers of a Community Benefits Agreement in which Ratner promises to create public services and distribute jobs to local residents. The eight community groups that signed the document have a predominantly black membership, which set the stage for the racial subtext in the battle over Atlantic Yards. “If this thing doesn’t come out in favor of Ratner,” BUILD’s president, James Caldwell, said last year, “it would be a conspiracy against blacks.”
Green isn’t quite so blunt, but he sees the divide over Atlantic Yards almost as starkly. “Here’s the question: If we were building an 18,000-seat opera house, would we get as much resistance? I don’t think so,” he says. “Basketball is like a secular religion for most Brooklynites. The opposition to the arena is actually coming from people who are new to Brooklyn, who lived in Manhattan, mostly. And who have a culture of opposing projects of this nature. People who opposed the West Side Highway project; people who opposed the Jets stadium; people who opposed a host of other things. Some of those families now live in Brooklyn. That’s the reality. There’s a class of people who are going to the opera. And there’s another class of folks who will go to a basketball game and get a cup of beer.”
Green has assisted in more than just framing the debate. He says that even before State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver played a decisive role in killing the Jets’ West Side stadium, he realized that Silver was determined to minimize new office-space development that might compete with the rebuilding of ground zero, which is in Silver’s district. Green relayed those concerns to Ratner, who scaled back his plans for Atlantic Yards office space. Silver controls one of the last remaining approvals needed by Ratner.
For their efforts on Ratner’s behalf, Green and other community representatives received terrific and creative commitments in the Community Benefits Agreement, minority job training and below-market housing chief among them. Other benefits are more troubling. BUILD, the organization Green helped found, was tapped to help recruit minority construction trainees for Atlantic Yards, even though it has no experience in the field. At first Ratner and BUILD denied a financial relationship. Then the Daily News discovered an IRS filing in which BUILD said it expected to receive $5 million from Ratner. At least four organizations that signed the CBA have received some form of payment from Ratner, totaling more than half a million dollars. The tactics, say critics, mean that Ratner purchased the “community” with which he negotiated.