After a decade of debates, lawsuits, hearings and more, Brooklyn officially welcomed its new sports arena, Barclays Center.
It was a festive atmosphere inside the 675,000-square-foot arena, where business, political and sports leaders from around the city and state gathered on Friday, September 21, to get a peek at the 18,000-plus-seat basketball court and the state-of-the-art event facilities, as well as see which 26 Brooklyn restaurants were setting up mini-outposts inside.
The first item on their list was checked off immediately, as Bruce Ratner, chairperson and CEO of developer Forest City Ratner, took the stage in the mezzanine area and a switch was flipped, illuminating the basketball court, which looked dazzling with its shiny floors, perimeter-wide ticker, and four-screen Jumbotron hanging above center court and the Brooklyn Nets logo.
“We needed to buy the team, buy the [rights], finance it, weather the worst economic climate in decades, to bring [it through several] state administrations, to build the entire infrastructure out of train tracks… and we did it,” exclaimed Ratner, who was joined by Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz, New York State Lieutenant Governor Robert Duffy, and Brooklyn Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov and CEO Brett Yormark to cut the celebratory ribbon.
“The ghost of Ebbets Field is gone and this is a new era for Brooklyn,” declared Markowitz, who has been a staunch advocate of the arena as an engine for job creation, new businesses and future housing developments, despite the years of lawsuits and protests from residents concerned about the impact of an arena on quality of life, and of the city’s use of eminent domain to evict people.
“I believe it will help local businesses, commercial streets will be busier than they have been, and there will be a lot of flourishing,” he said, adding that he does “not believe it will have a negative impact on the area,” since “this is a commercial area, not a bedroom community.”
Carlo Scissura, CEO and president of the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce, agreed, calling the day an “incredible” one for the business community.
“The opening of Barclays Center at the crossroads of Downtown Brooklyn, Fort Greene and the BAM Cultural District will fuel economic development, create jobs and spur business growth across the entire borough,” he said. “I look forward to working with [them] and can’t wait to cheer on the Brooklyn Nets!”
The Brooklyn Nets is the first major sports team in the borough since the Dodgers left for Los Angeles in 1957. A transplant from New Jersey, the team will have as its main local opponent, the New York Knicks, playing at Madison Square Garden.
Barclays Center Executive Chef Ralph Romano said that food lovers will also find plenty to love at the arena, where notable Brooklyn eateries such as Nathan’s Famous, Junior’s, L & B Spumoni, Blue Marble Ice Cream, Fatty Cue, Calexico, and Brooklyn Brewery will have popular dishes for sale alongside standard stadium snack and drink fare.
Romano described the food options as “freshly cooked on-site,” stressing that “all those details lead to a superior eating experience.”
Barclays is also aiming for a superior customer service experience, training its employees under the Walt Disney Company’s Disney Institute.
It wasn’t all congratulations and cheers, though, as dozens of residents and activists from the surrounding communities of Park Slope, Prospect Heights, Fort Greene, and Bedford-Stuyvesant protested outside the arena, disputing Markowitz’s claim that the area is more commercial than residential.
“This is not what we were promised. We were promised an arena with full-time jobs, living-wage jobs, affordable housing, and open space. None of those things marketed as benefits to the community have happened,” said Danae Oratowski of the Prospect Heights Neighborhood Development Council.
“So it’s like waking up one day and realizing that you live across the street from Madison Square Garden,” she went on. “No one wants to begrudge the opening, and everyone wants to celebrate, but we spent hundreds of millions of dollars in subsidies and soft costs that were not intended to fund a sports facility. We paid the money, but we haven’t gotten the benefits.”
The coalition includes the Fifth Avenue Committee, BrooklynSpeaks, the Brown Community Development Corporation, FUREE, Develop Don’t Destroy, and the Prospect Heights Neighborhood Development Council.
According to Bloomberg, Ratner, and Markowitz, the first housing complex in the Atlantic Yards project will break ground on December 18.
The brown-rust-colored arena, sits at the intersection of Flatbush and Atlantic Avenues, and features a sweeping donut-shaped overhang that points towards the newest subway entrance to the recently renamed Atlantic Avenue-Barclays Center station.
Barclays Center opens to the public on Friday, September 28, with a concert by native Brooklynite Jay-Z, aka Shawn Carter. The first Nets basketball game is set for November 1.