Eminent Domain

Eminent Domain Fails Again: Pathetic 'Community Benefits' From Brooklyn Nets Arena


In 2003 the city and state of New York partnered with a real estate tycoon named Bruce Ratner and began work on a massive redevelopment scheme known as the Atlantic Yards. The idea was to transform a 22-acre spot near downtown Brooklyn into what Ratner called an "urban utopia," replete with a luxury hotel, multiple high-rise office and apartment towers, and a shiny new sports arena for the NBA Nets, then partially owned by Ratner, to play ball.

The only problem was that more than half of the proposed site happened to be privately owned and occupied, and many of those owners and occupants had zero interest in selling their homes and businesses. So New York turned up the heat and invoked its power of eminent domain. If the holdouts still refused to get with the program, in other words, they'd be evicted and the bulldozers would follow.

Because it never looks good when the government forcibly seizes private property for the benefit of a rich developer, a few public relations sweeteners were also added to the deal, such as promises to build "affordable housing" and other "community benefits." In 2009, New York's highest court upheld the land grab, even though, as the court itself admitted, Atlantic Yards was most likely the product of a rigged system characterized by "political appointees to public corporations relying upon studies paid for by developers." One year later the new arena, now known as the Barclays Center, opened its doors to ticket buyers.

The promised "community benefits," on the other hand, have failed to appear—with one exception. As Andrew Keh reports in The New York Times, the Barclay's Center recently introduced something called the meditation room, "a locked, windowless, cinder-block room tucked near the arena's first aid office and a sushi stand." What's it doing there? As Keh explains, "the meditation room counts essentially as an asterisk in the long list of promises that Forest City Ratner, the project's developer, made to the borough." That pathetic asterisk represents the sum total of the "community benefits" delivered by Ratner and his government allies.

Is it time to say "we told you so" about this eminent domain swindle? Yes, it is. In fact, back in October 2009, Daniel Goldstein, the lead plaintiff in the legal challenge against the Atlantic Yards, basically predicted the outcome. Let's give Goldstein the last word:

When eminent domain is used in service of building a school, a railway, or a hospital, we know what we'll get. But when "economic development" is the justification, we have no idea what we'll get except for false hopes, false dreams, and happy talk, along with a land grab windfall for the developer and theft of homes.

In the case of Atlantic Yards the so-called "benefits" are illusory at best. No attempt has been made by the condemning authority or the lower court to weigh the public versus private benefits; meaning there has been no cost-benefit analysis of the project and no analysis of the developer's benefit. But it doesn't take a degree to see who gets the very short end of the stick.

NEXT: Greg Beato on the 3D Economy

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  1. promises to build “affordable housing”

    Affordable like the Affordable Care Act?

    1. Up my way there was recently a big controversy over some affordable housing project that ended up costing the state three hundred grand per condo, which they then rented out to low income families for a major loss. Government as usual.

      1. And how many of those “low income” were family, friends, associates of the politically connected. They often get first dibs on any such program,

        1. How many? All or None.

          You think the politically connected are going to live next door to poor people?

          1. ‘Affordable housing’ is usally built near expensive housing

  2. When eminent domain is used in service of building a school, a railway, or a hospital, we know what we’ll get. But when “economic development” is the justification, we have no idea what we’ll get except for false hopes, false dreams, and happy talk, along with a land grab windfall for the developer and theft of homes.


  3. On the plus side, Ratner’s lost a ton of money on it as well.

    1. Really? We can only hope that continues.

      Brooklyn sucks. Hipsters only live there because they can’t afford to live on the upper East Side. The moment the parents drop dead and they get their inheritance, they move to Manhattan. Any business plan that involves “making Brooklyn into a nice place” is going to fail.

    2. Live by the bulldozer, die by the bulldozer.

  4. Wow. This is my Shocked Face? —[GREATER-THAN SIGN] 😐

    I see the [GREATER-THAN SIGN] still doesn’t work. Let’s fix that, eh?

  5. …in other words, they’d be evicted and the bulldozers would follow.

    I’m sure the plans were on display in the bottom of a locked filing cabinet stuck in a disused lavatory with a sign on the door saying “Beware of the Leopard.”

  6. My top ten list of SC rulings that are travesties includes Kelo/New London. Another example of the court taking the clear language of the law and interpreting it to mean the polar opposite.

  7. And to add insult to injury, the Nets traded four first round draft picks and the rights to swap first round position on a fifth to the Celtics in return for two years of the aging Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett and getting rid of Gerald Wallace’s contract. So for the pleasure of watching them lose to the Pacers or the Heat in the second round of the playoffs this year and next, Nets fans are going to watch their team sink to the bottom of the NBA so that the Celtics can return to the top of the league.

    If the loses that come in 15, 16 and 17 won’t be bad enough, Nets fans will able to console themselves with the thought that at least the Celtics are going to get a lottery pick out of this. They should have left the Nets to die in Jersey.

  8. I wouldn’t be shocked if in ten years or so the Nets after years of losing have issues attracting fans and pick up and move to some southern or western city willing to pay them to come or move back to Jersey. New York belongs to the Knicks. The city proper will never really embrace another team. Even the Jersey burbs never fully embraced the Nets.

    You watch, Brooklyn will end up with an arena without a tenant in a few years.

    1. Well, they are going to have the Islanders in a couple of years. And nobody else wants them.

      1. True. Long Island was smart enough not to build a new Arena. But I wonder how many people are going to ride the train in to see the Islanders in Brooklyn? And as for New York, why pay to see the Islanders when you can already see the Rangers and Devils?

        1. Yeah, I’m not quite sure of what kinds of crowds that team’s going to get on a nightly basis. It might be as bad as what the Florida Panthers see.

  9. the meditation room, “a locked, windowless, cinder-block room tucked near the arena’s first aid office and a sushi stand.”

    A dungeon? As in, if you make trouble at Barclay, you get time in the meditation room?

    1. They should lock Ratfuckner in his “meditation room” and play the Barney song full blast for a few weeks. That would be a community benefit (no quotation marks).

  10. Is the Kelo way so new? How did NYC tear up the radio district to build the WTC? I would think some eminent domain was used.

    1. Kelo is a bit different from the WTC. The WTC was built by the Port Authority and owned by the Port Authority. The owners who were forced out sued claiming it was a misuse of eminent domain. The courts dodged the issue by basically saying that if the building is owned by the government and the government says it is for a public purpose, it is a public purpose, all those commercial leases for the building be damned.

      In Kelo, the government didn’t even try to use the fig leaf of government ownership. They condemned the property and gave it to a private party. That is what made Kelo different and worse than the WTC case.

      1. And it was particularly egregious because in Kelo the only public benefit proposed was that it could possibly bring in more property tax revenue.

        There have been eminent domain actions used for private parties before, but they’ve been limited to utilities or railroads.

        Most court cases tend to be about slight changes in the boundary of what’s acceptable.

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