Ellerbe Beckett rendering

NEW YORK CITY-Mayor Michael Bloomberg on Friday endorsed Forest City Ratner Cos.’ decision to replace architect Frank Gehry on the basketball arena that is intended as the future home of the Nets and the centerpiece of FCRC’s Atlantic Yards project. During his weekly radio show, Bloomberg said that thanks to the lower cost of the Ellerbe Becket plan for the Barclays Center Coliseum, lining up financing for the Brooklyn mega-project would be possible. “It looks like it will go ahead, which is great,” he said.

While acknowledging that the Gehry design is “spectacular,” Bloomberg said that developer Bruce Ratner “came to the conclusion that in this day and age, you just cannot finance something as complex to build as that stadium. They decided to part company because Ratner couldn’t afford to build if the economics didn’t work in today’s market.”

In a statement, Brooklyn borough president Marty Markowitz says Gehry, who reportedly is still master planner on Atlantic Yards, “has been absolutely central to creating the guiding vision for this project, and Ellerbe Becket is one of the best firms in the business. So we can be confident that the Nets and Brooklyn will indeed have a world-class, stunning arena here in Downtown Brooklyn and we will be bringing more affordable housing to those who so desperately need it.”

An opposing viewpoint comes from Vin Cipolla, president of The Municipal Art Society, who told the New York Times, “The current Atlantic Yards plan bears increasingly less resemblance to the project that was approved in 2006. The replacement of Gehry further reduces the public benefits of the project, which urgently needs re-evaluation and oversight.” Gehry’s 76-story design for FCRC’s Beekman Tower residential project in Lower Manhattan will continue to be used now that the project is resuming construction, the developer announced late last month.

The simplified Barclays Center design from Kansas City, MO-based Ellerbe will save $200 million in construction costs, according to the New York Times. Speculation that Gehry’s design–which would comprise nearly 25% of the project’s $4-billion cost–would be scrapped has followed the project since the credit crunch set in. During a tumultuous State Senate hearing in Brooklyn on May 29, Marisa Lago, CEO of the Empire State Development Corp., warned that the arena was being scaled back. Comparing the project to remodeling a house with a six-burner stove as the centerpiece, Lago said it was going “rom a six-burner to a four-burner.”

Also being scaled back is the upgrading on the Long Island Rail Road’s Vanderbilt Yard, which FCRC is performing as part of its deal with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority for air rights over the yard. At the May 29 hearing, Helena Williams, president of the LIRR and MTA’s interim executive director, said the new rail yard would be reduced from nine tracks to seven. She also said the original ’06 deal for FCRC to pay MTA $100 million for the Vanderbilt yard would have to be modified in view of the current economic climate. The matter will be discussed at MTA’s next board meeting, scheduled for June 24. According to the Times, FCRC will also address the ESDC’s board the same day.