Almost 55 years after the Dodgers won their final home game at Ebbets Field, a new sports franchise can now call Brooklyn home. The Nets will officially kick off the regular season at their new arena, the Barclays Center, on Nov. 1 against the Knicks. But the opening of the Barclays Center means more than just Nets basketball.
The first people to step on the hardwood will be musicians, not basketball players. The official opening of the Barclays Center, slated for today, will kick off with an inaugural, sold-out performance by Jay-Z—who is also the face of the Nets, although he owns less than a 1 percent share. Perhaps you’re one of the lucky ticket holders. If not, you may soon have reason to take one of the many trains that lead to the new home of the Brooklyn Nets.
The Center was originally designed to act as a new, cultural hub for Brooklynites. Every piece of promotional advertisement for the Barclays Center shouts, “Eleven trains. One Destination. Barclays Center.”
The advertisements aren’t wrong. The Center sits atop a new transportation hub that brings passengers of nearly every major train line to the intersection of Flatbush and Atlantic Avenues.
This will undoubtedly be beneficial for the crowds of tourists that may eventually flock to the Barclays Center, just as they do to Radio City Music Hall and Yankee Stadium.
Standing outside the complex, we heard a little girl exclaim, “I’m so excited to go in there!” A father walking with his son said, “This will be great for the community.”
And Brooklyn’s newest addition is already attracting guidebook-carrying tourists. Amid all the locals we saw during our visit to see the monstrosity, there were a few camera-toting, picture-taking tourists already scoping out the Center and some new Brooklyn Nets gear.
But the jury is still out on what the Center will actually do for the community—and whether the endless list of performances and games will live up to the hype.
BRINGING THE HEAT TO BROOKLYN
The move from New Jersey to Brooklyn became official for the Nets on April 13, although the intent to move the Nets to New York had been clear since 2005, after the franchise was sold to a group headed by real estate developer Bruce Ratner. The project experienced years of delays, and it only moved forward after Mikhail Prokhorov, the third richest man in Russia, made an offer both to buy a majority share of the Nets and pay for almost half of the costs to build the new arena in 2009. The construction officially began on March 11, 2010.
The team officially unveiled its new logo in April at the Modell’s Sporting Goods store across the street from the Barclays Center, according to the Modell manager Nick Chang. A Brooklynite who hails from Sunset Park, Chang says that there is a general sense of excitement in the area. “People still bring up the Brooklyn Dodgers,” he said. “That’s how excited people are for a major sports team here.”
And there’s no reason why Brooklyn shouldn’t be excited or Columbia students shouldn’t line up to head down and watch them play. The Nets could be good enough to make the postseason in their first year in New York. They’ll open their regular season against the Knicks, in what could easily become a traditional, inter-borough rivalry.
Rodney Laury, a Brooklyn native, was particularly excited about the Nets coming to Brooklyn. “Brooklyn, we have our own sports team now,” he said. “Last team we had was the Dodgers, and how long ago was that?”
The Nets will be welcoming All-Star guard Joe Johnson to Brooklyn for their inaugural season. Johnson will join one of the best point guards in the NBA, Deron Williams, who was a gold medalist on Team USA in both the 2008 and 2012 Olympic Games. Center Brook Lopez is a skilled scorer and, having been injured for most of last season, will be a welcome re-addition to the squad. Although the Nets’ hopes at a title in 2013 are slim, the promise of the postseason should be enough to excite Brooklyn and the rest of the city.
If you prefer college ball to the NBA, then you’re also in luck. During the first few months of its opening, the Center will play host to a variety of college basketball tournaments. The defending college national champions, University of Kentucky, will take on University of Maryland on Nov. 9. On Dec. 15, University of Michigan’s head coach John Beilein will lead his team against West Virginia University, where he was a coach for four years before moving to Michigan. The NCAA Division I matchup will be just one of three college games that will constitute the Brooklyn Winter Hoops Festival this year.
The stadium even has something for non-sports fans who might prefer a concert to a game, beginning with Jay-Z’s blowout performance tonight. Barbara Streisand, Rush, John Legend, the Smashing Pumpkins, Justin Bieber, The Who, and Bob Dylan will all be making stops at the new Center before finals get underway in December. And once the spring semester starts, Lady Gaga and Rihanna are scheduled to perform in March and May, respectively.
Laury is one of the lucky ones—he has tickets to the opening night of Jay-Z’s concert series. He particularly hoped that Jay-Z would bring guest performers, as he has done in the past.
But the best part, for Laury, is the proximity. “I can walk here if I want to,” he said.
For a neighborhood that has experienced rapid growth (chiefly as a direct result of the Center itself), Atlantic Avenue has clearly had a facelift. Both the Center and the shopping mall across the street—which includes megastores like Target and Best Buy—were developed by the same company, Forest City Ratner, and are planning to build new affordable housing complexes directly behind the Barclays Center in the next few decades as a part of the Atlantic Yards Project.
Rhonda Hallett, another Brooklynite, said she has noted a significant change in the area since the project began—and for the better. According to her, it had not always been the safest part of town and she hadn’t always felt safe walking around. But the arena is changing that. “Every area in every borough has its good and bad points,” she said, “but they’re trying to build our area up.”
NOT EVERYTHING'S COMING UP (DERRICK) ROSE(S)
Not everyone is excited about the opening of the Barclays Center—the project gained notoriety from the start because of its use of eminent domain to acquire much of the land. Over 51 community groups are opposed to the idea of a single builder having complete control over the site.
One of the larger opposition groups, Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn, was co-founded by local Daniel Goldstein. Goldstein was the final residential holdout that stood in the way of the Atlantic Yards Project and finally agreed to move out on May 7, 2010 for three million dollars.
“At it’s core, it is a corrupt, undemocratic project,” Goldstein said. “The impact of it, and the proposed buildings, are all symptoms of a process that was corrupt from the beginning.”
The project initially promised Brooklynites 10,000 full-time jobs, 2,250 units of affordable housing, and eight acres of open, public space. And according to a press release issued by the Barclays Center, roughly 2,000 people will be trained by the business advisory section of the Walt Disney Company to work in the arena. The Barclays Center also provided union workers with jobs throughout the building process.
“New York City has always been home to the biggest events on the grandest stages, and now Brooklyn has a world-class venue to continue that tradition,” Mayor Michael Bloomberg said in a statement at the ribbon-cutting ceremony. “The arena’s location ... and its innovative design make it destined to become an iconic part of the urban landscape.”
But now that the Center is finally opening this weekend, Goldstein said, the differences between what was promised and the reality are painfully apparent. According to Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn, only 100 of the promised full-time jobs were created, and three years after the project started, the terms were changed and the schedule for building housing complexes was extended significantly.
“Everyone understands people are going to go and enjoy the events at the arena,” Goldstein said. “But that’s not what the project was about. It was about creating jobs and homes for Brooklynites, and it’s failed miserably at that.”
EXCITEMENT'S IN THE AIR(BALL)
We trekked down to the Barclays Center last week. Well, OK, “trekked” is a loose term since there are approximately 80 trains—fine, 11—you can take to get there.
While we will be the first to admit that the building is a bit of an eyesore, we didn’t completely hate looking at it by the time we left. What really struck us was the dichotomy between the two opposing sides of the Barclays Center. To the left, there’s a built-up shopping complex with the likes of Target, Buffalo Wild Wings, and Cold Stone Creamery. To the right, you find a storybook-like version of old-school Brooklyn, including a haunted house, a sports bar, and the Conrad McRae basketball courts a few blocks away.
Nothing quite compares to the size of the court in the arena itself. For games, it seats 18,000, an impressive 10,000 of which belong to season ticket holders. Even though the arena is slightly smaller than Madison Square Garden, the steep angle of the upper section seats will provide better views directly onto the court.
Despite the newness of the Barclays Center, the exterior appears to be anything but. It just looks rusty. And, in fact, it is. According to the New York Times, the arena is built out of a material called “weathering steel” and is intended to do just what its name says—protect against the weather. To put it more clearly: The finish is not paint. It’s just rust.
Although the outside of the arena looks old and weathered, it’s bringing something that Brooklyn hasn’t seen in over five decades: something to root for. And even if you don’t have a ticket to the sold out inaugural performance by Jay-Z, don’t worry, the Center isn’t going anywhere, especially not California.
“The opening of Barclays Center is the culmination of my dream for Brooklyn to bring a national professional sports team back to the borough for the first time since our beloved Dodgers left for ‘La La Land’ more than 50 years ago,” Brooklyn Borough president Marty Markowitz said in a statement. “As home of the Nets, Brooklyn once again stands proud as a national sports city, and with the first tipoff at center court on Nov. 1, the ghosts of Ebbets Field will disappear forever.”
The Barclays Center is located at 620 Atlantic Avenue. 2 and 3 trains stop at the Center. Jay-Z is performing tonight and has seven additional concerts between now and Oct. 8. A full calendar of events can be seen at http://www.barclayscenter.com/events-tickets/event-calendar.