Bruce Ratner presented his ambitious proposal to City Hall in the beginning of 2003. His plan was to construct the biggest public-private real estate development to hit New York in over 20 years.
Based on Frank Gehry’s design, Ratner planned to build a sports-and-entertainment arena, 2.1 million square feet of commercial space and 4,500 residential units on and around a rarely used rail yard located in Downtown Brooklyn along Atlantic Avenue.
According to The Real Deal, “During Ratner’s presentation, a senior policy adviser in the Bloomberg administration reportedly leaned over to deputy mayor Dan Doctoroff and whispered, ‘the guy has balls.’ Fifteen years later, Ratner’s vision has become only a partial reality, with an arena that’s home to the Brooklyn Nets and New York Islanders and four of 16 residential towers up, with several more planned. But Ratner is now retired, and his company — once one of the most powerful real estate developers in New York — is a shell of its former self. Previously mentioned in the same breath as major builders such as Related Companies, Silverstein Properties and Tishman Speyer, the firm doesn’t have any other major projects in the works in New York City.”
In 2017, now a subsidiary of Cleveland-based REIT Forest City Realty Trust, Forest City Ratner Companies decided to lose Ratner’s name and become just Forest City New York. Then in January 2018, the company sold to the Chinese developer Greenland Group, almost all of the stake it still owned in its biggest development project in New York, Pacific Park. The same day as this momentous sale, it was revealed that after serving the firm for over 20 years, Forest City New York’s CEO MaryAnne Gilmartin, who was Ratner’s protégé and took over the lead role when he retired, was leaving the company along with several other top executives.
Despite attracting 50 possible buyers, the parent company announced late last month that it would not be selling itself, putting to rest several weeks of speculation. However, the control over the company still possessed by the Ratner family was further weakened by the company’s board, speeding up a movement that began many years earlier and implying that the company will continue to pull out of the risky development industry.
The company also put into action its third round of layoffs in two years, when it recently let about 20 employees at its Brooklyn office go.
TRD reports, “So how did one of New York’s most powerful developers end up here? The company, sources say, was hindered by two key problems: major missteps at Pacific Park and a corporate restructuring that marginalized its development business. It certainly didn’t help that the firm was operating in one of the riskiest sectors in one of the most competitive cities on the globe.”
Retired BMO Capital Market analyst Paul Adornato, who followed the Forest City saga for many years, told TRD, “Development is so fickle, and every big development company is only one disaster away from oblivious.”
By Mark Snyder