The Battle for Brooklyn Development and the Atlantic Yards

East of the busy intersection of Atlantic and Flatbush Avenues in Downtown Brooklyn, where the Long Island Rail Road and almost 10 subway lines intersect, one finds, in the shadow of the landmark Williamsburgh Savings Bank building, the Vanderbilt Rail Yard. At this rather unattractive open-air facility, trains that terminate at the LIRR's Brooklyn terminal rest between rush hours are cleaned and serviced.

A visitor would find that several nearby blocks look somewhat like a ghost town. One sees vacant lots, some vacant low-rise commercial and industrial buildings, several still-operating businesses (most notably the famous Freddy's Bar), and low-rise residential buildings with only a handful of occupants left. Once, more than 400 people lived in these blocks, according to activist Daniel Goldstein of Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn—now, fewer than 100 remain.

The rail yard and the aforementioned blocks are in the "footprint" of the 22-acre Atlantic Yards development being planned by developer Forest City Ratner.

Big Plans for Brooklyn

The Atlantic Yards development project, if built according to plan, will center around a new arena for the New Jersey Nets, which Bruce Ratner, the CEO of Forest City Ratner, now owns. It also includes 16 high-rise buildings designed by famed architect Frank Gehry.

While the complex will be built in stages, Ratner forecasts that the Nets will be playing in the new arena by 2009. The centerpiece building, the futuristic "Miss Brooklyn," as Gehry calls it, was originally supposed to rise higher than the Williamsburgh Bank building, currently the tallest structure in Brooklyn at 512 feet. However, political pressure forced planners to scale it down so this will no longer be the case.

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