"Independent" Group Admits Getting Cash From Ratner

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A supposedly independent group supporting the proposed Nets arena complex in Brooklyn now admits it has received over $100,000 from the developer, Forest City Ratner. WNYC's Andrea Bernstein has more.

REPORTER: Since first launching the arena project, developer Forest City Ratner has aggressively reached out to the surrounding community. There were glossy brochures, a newspaper published by the developer, and offers of free Nets tickets to anyone signing a postcard saying they'd support the project. Some grassroots groups, like ACORN, a low-income housing group, were early enthusiasts. But the developer wasn't satisfied. It encouraged the formation of BUILD, which stands for Brooklyn United for Innovative Local Development, INC. That group formed in late 2004, just as Forest City was seeking support by saying it would negotiate a Community Benefits Agreement, or CBA, to ensure the developer would hire local residents and contractors. Build was one of the groups selected by Forest City to negotiate on behalf of the community. Not long ago, BUILD Chief Operating Officer, Marie Louis, was interviewed by WNYC’s Brian Lehrer.

BRIAN LEHRER: So to what extent, just by way of full disclosure, is your group funded by Forest City Ratner?

MARIE LOUIS: Wow…we are not funded by Forest City Ratner, from our inception we've been asked that question all the time it's very interesting to us, especially many folks coming from communities of color, we wonder why is it that folks think we cannot think for ourselves?

REPORTER: Not long after that program, the group Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn, which opposes the arena project, held a press conference to release IRS documents submitted by Build. In those documents, the group said Forest City Ratner contributed $5 million dollars. BUILD members showed up to insist that amount was what the group HOPED to get – not what Forest City Ratner had given. Here’s Marie Louis again.

MARIE LOUIS: What you have is an application we don’t have anything that documents revenues, that 1023 form is an application form.

REPORTER: But it says, in answer to the question, it says 5 million dollars WAS contributed by Forest City Ratner.

MARIE LOUIS: No it doesn’t. There is there is nothing that says we have received any money because we have not.

REPORTER: So why did they tell the IRS that they had?

MARIE LOUIS: We have not received 5 million dollars.

REPORTER: How much money have you received?

MARIE LOUIS: We have not received any money from Forest City Ratner.

REPORTER: A Forest City Ratner spokesman seconded that. But it turns out that’s not the whole story. Now, the spokesman says he learned the company had, in fact, given money to build. One hundred thousand dollars for salaries, another 38,000 to distribute the Brooklyn Standard, Ratner’s newspaper. Forest City Ratner is also providing the group free rent, and has hired a PR agency in part to represent BUILD, though it wouldn’t disclose how much it’s paying the new spokeswoman.

Tonight, the first public hearing will be held to discuss the project’s environmental impact. The hearing is required by law before the state can approve the project. But despite opposition from some quarters, that approval is expected. For WNYC, I’m Andrea Bernstein.