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Smith: Ratner’s Atlantic Yards Stimulus Shakedown

At first Marty Markowitz seemed to be doing what he does best: Talk. But there’s more than just wishful thinking to the Brooklyn borough president’s words, in yesterday’s Post, about using federal stimulus money to revive Atlantic Yards. According to a government source, representatives of Forest City Ratner — the developers of the massive, foundering Brooklyn basketball-and-skyscraper project — have been pushing the idea with Governor David Paterson’s office, trying to elbow to the front of the line before any of the roughly $17 billion in federal aid arrives.

Atlantic Yards has been on life support since late last year, stalled by the collapse of the credit markets as well as lawsuits contesting Ratner’s attempt to seize property through eminent domain. Frank Gehry’s design for the showpiece NBA arena has been undergoing revision in an attempt to reduce costs that have swelled to $1 billion. Preparatory construction work on the 22-acre site was halted in December. Meanwhile, Ratner’s team has returned repeatedly to the city and state asking for subsidies beyond the possible $1.5 billion in direct and indirect taxpayer money that went into the original deal. That effort seemed to be making little headway, however, with the recession forcing the mayor and governor to slash spending on everything from teachers to hospitals to cops.

But Ratner is nothing if not persistent, and he’s lined up a powerful group of political supporters for Atlantic Yards, including Mayor Bloomberg, Senator Chuck Schumer, and the project’s first elected cheerleader, Markowitz (new senator Kirsten Gillibrand hasn’t taken a position on Atlantic Yards yet). Other than Markowitz, they haven’t said whether they like the idea of using stimulus money to revive the project. And there is a long list of more worthy state projects — from the Second Avenue subway to the Cross-Harbor Freight Tunnel to high-speed upstate rail links — that would produce bigger public benefit from the stimulus bucks without bailing out a private real-estate developer.

The key player, however, may be a guy who is out of office but certainly not out of the game: Alfonse D’Amato. Over the years, Ratner has spent millions on a wide range of Albany and Washington lobbyists, none of whom are better connected than the former senator — especially now that D’Amato has recently emerged as one of Paterson’s biggest fund-raisers. If Atlantic Yards rises from its shallow grave, don’t be surprised to see D’Amato wielding one of the shovels.

Smith: Ratner’s Atlantic Yards Stimulus Shakedown