Nets Arena’s New Deal

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority that controls the land set for the future home of the New Jersey Nets is playing ball with team owner/developer Bruce Ratner.

Ratner’s Forest City Ratner company has scored a new deal to pay the MTA $20 million up front for the site of the Atlantic Yards development, along with $80 million in payments over a 22-year timeline.

Originally, Forest City was expected to pay $100 million at the close of the deal.

As part of the agreement, Forest City is also expected to build a replacement railyard for the MTA worth $150 million – reportedly $100 million less than what was originally proposed.

The 22-acre Atlantic Yards development has faced years of economic and legal setbacks, but the new terms of the agreement have made things a little sweeter for Forest City.

They’re also a little too sweet for the tastes of some critics, who called the agreement a “bailout” for Ratner, the New York Daily News reported.

“If the MTA is flush with cash to such an extent that they can delay payment over 21 years, then … there should not be any cutbacks in service,” councilwoman Letitia James told the paper. “There should not be any discussion of any future fare hikes.”

Critics of the development have also questioned whether Ratner will stick to the original plan that was set to feature a $1 billion arena and 16 residential and office towers.

Frank Gehry, the celebrity architect who designed modern masterpieces including the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain, won over officials at the onset of the development with his designs. He was recently dropped by Forest City in favor of sports architectural firm Ellerbe Becket to “implement cost-cutting measures” to the arena.

But even with Ellerbe Becket helming the arena, the cost of Atlantic Yards has reportedly ballooned to $4.9 billion, leaving some questioning whether Forest City’s plan was in fact a “bait and switch.”

“The sweeping promises of affordable housing made by the developer at the onset of this project have now evaporated to a mere whisper,” Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries told the New York Post. “At this point, it is not clear that the developer plans to build anything other than an arena and a few affordable apartment units, and that is simply unacceptable.”

Ratner responded in a statement.

“While the world has changed significantly since Atlantic Yards won public approval in December 2006, and we are trying to adapt to those changes, the project and the project benefits, including the arena, the jobs and the affordable housing, will remain the same,” he said.

Forest City must break ground on the arena by Dec. 31 in order to sell tax-exempt bonds to finance the project and the Nets have insisted they will move into the arena by fall 2011. A deadline could also be looming in the $400 million naming-rights deal between the team and Barclays, which was already extended over construction delays.