Sports Law Blog
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Tuesday, January 27, 2004

Eminent Domain and the Brooklyn Nets: A strong wave of protest has arisen after Bruce Ratner purchased the New Jersey Nets and announced his plans to move the team to Brooklyn, building a new stadium in the Prospect Heights area. As Denis Hammill writes, the great majority of those protesting are the approximately 800 residents of this area that would lose their residences to eminent domain.

Eminent domain is always a touchy policy, as it involves the most protected of all places, people's homes. However, the need for eminent domain is evident, as great complexes such as the World Trade Center, the Brooklyn Bridge and Rockefeller Center could not have been built without it. A strong anti-stadium group has arisen in Brooklyn, challenging the need to evict 800 residents to build a new sports arena. One can certainly sympathize with someone who stands to lose their home, no matter how long they have lived there or what the compensation will be.

On the other hand, Ratner and the developers claim that the new stadium area will result in 10,000 new permanent jobs, as well as incredible economic growth for the area. The residents of Brooklyn have been clamoring for a professional sports team for nearly 50 years and will undoubtedly pour money into both the franchise and its surroundings. In the long run, Brooklyn and its people will be better off because of the exercise of eminent domain.

Are there legal obstacles to using the eminent domain power to build a sports arena? Peter Sepulveda (11 Seton Hall J. Sports L. 137) has raised the question of whether the taking in this situation satisfies the "public use" component of the doctrine. As he argues, while the job and economic growth associated with such arenas clearly will benefit the entire community, these figures are often exaggerated, and the community as a whole may not benefit financially in the long run. Precedent, however, appears to be against the homeowners. Recently, the cities of Dallas, Seattle and Detroit have all won eminent domain cases needed to build new sports facilities. In this day and age, we can expect a lawsuit from the protestors over the ruling, meaning that a court will have the final say on interpreting and applying the Brooklyn eminent domain statute.

Even if the city's action is legal, however, some uneasiness remains that these middle- and lower-income families must give up what may be a prized residence in order to fund the dreams of the wealthy, who will own the team, play the games and sit in the luxury suites. I for one hope that the Nets (or whatever the team will be called) will remember this sacrifice and keep down the costs of tickets, so that those who gave their homes can at least cheer on the new Brooklyn team.