9/21/2007

Financial Firm Swept Up In Eminent Domain Decision in Brooklyn: Brooklyn NY Daily Eagle, 8/22/07

City Has No Project to Replace 150-Employee Firm

By Sarah Ryley

The future of a financial services firm and its 150 employees is fraught with uncertainty now that the city has approved the use of eminent domain to seize the company’s building within the BAM [Brooklyn Academy of Music] Cultural District.

The Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) issued its eminent domain ruling on Monday, which concerned Track Data Corporation’s property along with 20 others on three blocks in Fort Greene and Downtown Brooklyn. There is no project planned to replace Track Data, which set up shop at 95 Rockwell Pl. two decades ago, “when there were crack vials on the ground and nobody wanted to come here,” said one employee.

Now, the city has the area earmarked as the BAM Cultural District, eight blocks in Downtown Brooklyn dedicated to cultural programming anchored by the Brooklyn Academy of Music.

A spokesman for the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership, the non-profit overseeing downtown redevelopment, said Track Data’s property would eventually house a mixed-use building with cultural facilities on the ground level and affordable and market-rate housing. He said the city would probably start seeking developers for the site later this year.

“It’s not pleasant to have the Sword of Damocles hanging over your head,” said Track Data spokesman Rafi Reguer, lifting an expression from classical Greek mythology often used to describe the ever-present threat of peril.

Track Data is a small firm that provides financial services similar to Bloomberg, L.P. — the company that made the mayor a billionaire — but with less than 1 percent of Bloomberg’s $4.7 billion in annual sales. Reguer said the company is unsure if it would appeal the eminent domain ruling, as its attorneys advised that the courts would most likely side with the city. “You could pretty much count on one hand the number of times the court reverses [an eminent domain decision by the city], and still be able to snap your fingers,” he said.

So far, Reguer said the company hasn’t received a relocation offer — which he said is strange given that the city is always looking to recruit and retain financial firms.

But Track Data is not at a loss for suitors. Reguer said economic development entities in New Jersey, the South and Canada are constantly trying to woo the firm to relocate within their borders.

If the company has to move out of state, “it’s going to be a big upheaval,” said IT director Brian O’Reilly, who has been with the company since the beginning. “We don’t really know how it’s going to affect our coworkers,” whether they’d have to uproot or find new careers here, he said.

Reguer added that, if a developer had approached Track Data offering to buy the building, the company would have probably sold at the right price. But now, Track Data is forced to take the price the city offers. “Our company operates in a market-based economy, and in a market-based economy two people decide what [a property is] worth,” he said.

Seth Donlin, an HPD spokesman, said relocation assistance is offered to all parties forced to move due to eminent domain proceedings, and that the amount of assistance “is calculated on a per case basis and takes into account the cost of moving, and in some cases storing, heavy equipment.”

In the case of Track Data, Donlin said eminent domain is used to obtain consolidated pieces of property so comprehensive redevelopment plans can be realized, rather than seizing properties in a piecemeal fashion as the various phases of development progress.

Of the 21 properties included in this week’s eminent domain ruling, eight are in the BAM Cultural District. The others are on Duffield and Gold streets in Downtown Brooklyn, including homes allegedly once involved in the Underground Railroad, and would be replaced by a one-acre park and underground parking garage.

Four of the eight lots within the BAM Cultural District have planned developments, according to information provided by the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership. A theatre for Danspace and 350 residential units are in the planning process; the Frank Gehry-designed Theatre for a New Audience is in the approval process; and a small park is proposed atop one of the parking lots.

Forté, a 28-story, Flatiron-style residential tower by The Clarett Group, and a residential conversion at 96 Rockwell St.— both market-rate condominiums — are under construction in the vicinity.


Brooklyn NY Daily Eagle: http://www.brooklyneagle.com