Friday, September 21, 2012

Brooklyn's New $1Billion Arena to Open Friday

Nine years after it was first announced, Brooklyn's new 675,000-square-foot Barclays Center  - the jewel of the massive Atlantic Yards project - will host its first event on Friday. Jay-Z, the Brooklyn native and minority owner of the Brooklyn Nets, will host a sold-out concert in the home of his basketball team. An announcement regarding ground breaking on the first of 16 residential towers planned for the site is expected to emerge from the event. Forest City Ratner has promised to break ground before the end of this year.

Nearly nine tumultuous years after it was first announced—a span of time marked by multiple protests, at least seven lawsuits, a global financial crisis, the involvement of a Russian tycoon and the firing of a star architect—the Barclays Center at Brooklyn's Atlantic Yards is slated to be officially unveiled on Friday.

The 675,000-square-foot arena at the center of Forest City Ratner Co.'s massive project is set to host its first event when Jay-Z, the Brooklyn native and minority owner of the Brooklyn Nets, opens a sold-out concert series in the venue that will serve as the home of the basketball team. Various officials will be on hand Friday to cut the ribbon on the arena, including Forest City Ratner chairman and CEO Bruce Ratner, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov, who bought the majority of the team and 45% of the arena in 2009.

Perhaps the most interesting news expected to emerge from the event will be the date for breaking ground on the first of the 16 residential towers Forest City plans for the site. The developer has said that although the date would be announced Friday, the company has not yet decided whether to use modular or convention construction to build it. Forest City had promised to break ground by the end of the year. It wants to use modular construction to save money, but first needs to reach a deal with the unions to go down that path.

The entire project is years behind the original schedule, in part because of repeated lawsuits filed to block the use of eminent domain to clear the site. That use was eventually allowed, but as the battle was being played out, the economy went into tailspin, handcuffing Mr. Ratner's ability to move forward. In need of cash, he sold the majority of the Nets and the arena stake to Mr. Prokhorov.

He also fired star architect Frank Gehry, who had designed the project's master plan and had a vision for the arena, to save money. Mr. Ratner eventually had to renegotiate his deal with the state to allow him to take longer to finish the project. Now instead of 10 years, he has a 25-year timeline.

However, a court ruled earlier this year that a new environmental impact study must be done because the construction may be drawn out for so long.

Opponents are wondering why that study has not started, and they are hoping that government officials will put more pressure on Forest City to move at a faster pace to provide the jobs and affordable housing that were promised as a part of the project. The Empire State Development Corp. has oversight authority on the project because it used the state's power of eminent domain to secure the land.

Any major architectural project undertaken in the city will have lovers and haters. Moreover, when a building pushes the design conventions of the day, it will invariably be compared to a giant something or other.

The Citigroup Center on East 53rd Street seemed radical in its early years. A familiar part of the skyline now, its sliced-off top nonetheless calls to mind the end of a highlight marker. A row of massive X-shaped girders dominates the much-maligned Port Authority Bus Terminal. The building is stellar at least in its resemblance to the scorecard of a perfect bowling game.

Last week's ceremonial ribbon cutting at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn provides the perfect Rorschach moment for the hulking arena. Some have compared it to the alien spaceship in the movie “Independence Day.” Another sees a collapsing chocolate soufflĂ©.