Banks, Basketball, and Property Rights

On March 11, Barclays Capital took out a full-page ad in the front section of the Wall Street Journal to declare that it is "proud" to celebrate the groundbreaking for the new Barclays Center in the Prospect Heights section of Brooklyn. If Barclays had even a modicum of respect for private property rights and the free market, it would be deeply ashamed.

The future home of the NBA laughing-stock Nets will soon be the former home of proud Brooklyners. These folks are losing their homes and businesses through eminent domain for a basketball court and other private development projects of billionaire developer Bruce Ratner.

Ratner did not have much difficulty courting virtually the entire New York political establishment to his side. All he had to do was claim that a sports arena and luxury residences would generate more tax revenue than neighborhood pubs and modest condos. With the promise of extra taxes, officials became all too eager to declare this up-and-coming neighborhood "blighted" and condemn the properties on Ratner's behalf. Ratner also succeeded in hiring the scandal-ridden ACORN to provide political cover for the development project by loaning the group $1 million and giving it $500,000 outright. And because the Nets have been hemorrhaging money, Ratner also partnered with Mikhail Prokhorov, the unscrupulous billionaire Russian playboy, who now owns a share in the Nets and in the arena.

Is this what Barclays meant by the "teamwork and excellence" mentioned in its ad?

On the other side of Team Ratner is a group of home and small business owners. Daniel Goldstein was a graphic designer before Ratner targeted his condo for the center court of the new Nets arena. Now, his full-time job is fighting a losing battle against the state in an effort to stay in his rightful home.

New York is perhaps the worst abuser of eminent domain in the nation and, so far, New York courts have rejected the claims of Goldstein and his neighbors fighting eviction, clearing the way for the groundbreaking heralded by Barclays. In the final days before Goldstein is removed from his home, he now even has to ask Ratner for permission before having guests over. "I actually don't feel like I live in New York City or a free country anymore," he recently said.