The Nets may have lost all 13 games they've played so far this season, but they picked up the only kind of court victory they actually care about on Tuesday. The New York State Court of Appeals ruled that the the state can use eminent domain to force tenants out of buildings slated to be used as part of the Atlantic Yards project designed to build the team an arena in downtown Brooklyn.
The victory for team owner and real estate developer Bruce Ratner isn't a big surprise. The Nets and their government backers have won every court case that's been brought against the development project thus far. But those individual battles won't necessarily decide the entire war. The Nets still need to issue tax-exempt bonds before the end of the year to actually get started with construction, and the project's adversaries are still using a four-corner offense, to use basketball parlance, to delay things past that point.
"The fight against the Atlantic Yards project is far from over. The community has four outstanding lawsuits against the project and, meanwhile, the arena bond financing clock ticks louder and louder for Ratner. While this is a terrible day for taxpaying homeowners in New York, this is not the end of our fight to keep the government from stealing our homes and businesses,” said Develop Don't Destroy spokesman and lead plaintiff Daniel Goldstein in a statement on Tuesday.
The court was sympathetic to the plantiffs, saying that the bar might be set too low when it comes to what represents a blighted area, but said any change to the definition of eminent domain must come from the Legislature and not from the bench. The only change. Ratner and the state are using the decision as an excuse to start going forward with the project. The Empire State Development Corporation is going forward with plans to issue the needed bonds in light of the court decision and, in his own statement, Ratner remained adamant that the Nets would be losing basketball games in Brooklyn come the 2011-2012 season.
The next legal fight will involve the changes to the arena's architectural plans, which were called "hack expediency" by James S. Russell of Bloomberg News last week. Given the history, the Nets will probably win that battle too but it still seems to be too soon for anyone to light up a victory cigar.