06/22/2009 08:22 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

MTA Hands Millions to Billionaire Developer

Surely one of the most bizarre events in the tortured story of the city's relationship with developers occurred today, in what may be the first of several upsetting events this week.

At a time when the city and MTA are scrambling for money through fare hikes and budget cuts, the Finance Committee of the MTA, which more or less controls the fate of billionaire developer Bruce Ratner (of Forest City Ratner), recommended Monday to drop the price of the air rights to their Brooklyn Vanderbilt Yards and let him off the hook for tens of millions of dollars. What's weird is that his multi-billion-dollar proposed Atlantic Yards development can't go forward without a deal, so you'd tend to think the price would go UP, not down.

Only in New York would things go backward like that.

Ratner was obliged to pay $100 million, which is $50 million less than Extell Development Company's bid of a few years ago, on the condition that they build an improved and enlarged railyard. Now the MTA seems to be simply rubber-stamping Ratner's brazen demand to pay only $20 million up front and a 25% smaller railyard.

And the likelihood that the MTA will see the rest of that cash is unclear. Ostensibly he has offered $80 million in today's dollars over the next 22 years. Those are REALLY nice terms, considering the original deal was full cash in the pocket of us poor folks, the MTA ridership. (More info can easily be found on a blog that reports on every mention of the ill-fated Atlantic Yards,

Stay tuned - the MTA Board has to 'vote' on this on Wednesday 6/24/09, and the ESDC, which is the ostensible entity driving this for the government, will have a board meeting on Tuesday 6/23/09. I'm planning on attending the ESDC meeting, and will report. I wonder if Ratner's paid goons from BUILD will try to disrupt the meeting, as they did a May 29 hearing. Should be exciting.