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Key steps for NJ Nets arena plan; foes fight on

NEW YORK— Plans to build a new arena for the New Jersey Nets as part of a massive development are gaining momentum after six contentious years, but opponents say they’ll keep trying to stop the massive project.

A developer signed key documents Wednesday letting the proposed $4.9 billion, 22-acre Atlantic Yards development proceed as a state agency moved to condemn some property needed for the Brooklyn project. Last week, developer Forest City Ratner Cos. briskly sold more than $500 million in bonds to finance the arena and completed a plan to sell 80 percent of the team and 45 percent of the venue to Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov.

But lawsuits against the project continue, and opponents say they will challenge the condemnation, or forced sale.

Ratner officially closed on the project Wednesday, marking a legal move CEO Bruce Ratner called “a vital step forward for New York City.”

Supporters say Atlantic Yards will transform a rundown railyard area near downtown Brooklyn into a bustling complex of office towers, apartments and the 18,000-seat arena. The project will create thousands of jobs and affordable apartments, Ratner says.

But some local homeowners, tenants and business owners say it will destroy a neighborhood to enrich private interests in the name of public benefit.

Opponents say they will fight the condemnation proceedings, which a state economic-development agency formally launched Wednesday. The state’s highest court last month approved the use of eminent domain — the government’s condemnation power — for Atlantic Yards.

Two ongoing lawsuits challenge the project on environmental and other grounds. Opponents also are eyeing whether the bond financing got an adequate state review.

Despite Wednesday’s closing, “there are outstanding legal issues and more to come,” said Daniel Goldstein, a spokesman for the group Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn, the project’s leading opponent. He lives with his wife and baby in a condominium targeted for acquisition.

Atlantic Yards critics had hoped the bond sale would fall flat and doom the project; under federal law, the bonds had to be sold by the end of the year to be tax-free. But the $511 million in bonds sold within hours.

Construction crews have been preparing the Atlantic Yards site for building; more than half the buildings there have been demolished. The developer hopes to open the arena, to be called the Barclays Center, for the 2011-12 basketball season.

Prokhorov would become the NBA’s first non-North American owner under his deal with Ratner, which needs approval from the league’s Board of Governors. The arrangement also includes an option for Prokhorov to acquire up to 20 percent of Atlantic Yards.

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