It's taken nearly nine years, and at least that many lawsuits, but Atlantic Yards developer Bruce Ratner has finally completed the Brooklyn sports/entertainment complex of his dreams, to the delight and horror of Brooklyn residents. "We are finally here to celebrate the grand opening of the Barclays Center arena," he told the assemblage of reporters and VIP guests at the ribbon cutting ceremony/unveiling this morning—and he repeated that line twice for emphasis, or perhaps to make sure it was really happening.
This was a ceremony that embraced the pomp and circumstance of the occasion—if Barclays Center is really to be Brooklyn's Madison Square Garden, then surely it needed the streamers and ribbons and breakfast spreads to put it into the major leagues. Overall, the event was a victory lap, one that began with the speakers—including Ratner, Mayor Bloomberg, Brooklyn Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov, Brooklyn Nets CEO Brett Yormark, Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz and Barclays Executive Chairman of the Americas Thomas Kalaris—coming out to a muzak version of "Kiss From A Rose," and ended with Big Star's classic "Thank You Friends." The slight sarcasm of that kiss-off was apparently not noticed.
All the rancor aside, we think it's an impressive, welcoming structure, with its steel components purposefully covered in rust on the outside. Dominating the front space (aka the "oval oculus") is the strange, UFO-like 360 degree LED marquee screen. Architect Gregg Pasquarelli of SHoP, the architecture firm who designed the arena, said they wanted a juxtaposition between grit and glamour: "The idea was to use raw industrial materials, a certain kind of grittiness extended in a sensual way."
Inside, the 18K capacity arena maintains a minimalist theme, with all black seats and metal hanging lights—even the "urban palette"-oriented concession stands share it. The wooden floor of the court has a herringbone design with the Nets' new black and white logo in the middle. As for the suites, Pasquarelli compared them to a "theater with an unscripted ending...what shines is the court, and the performances."
Ratner, who served as an unofficial emcee for the hour-long speeches portion of the ceremony, touted the arena as a mecca of culture that would become a landmark of the borough:
We have a place where for a few hours of the day, a fan, a follower, a patron, a guest can have their troubles left behind, and they can be whooshed away for a few hours, whether it be a child laughing at a clown in the circus, or a teen bopping to Bieber, or an old Brooklynite swooning to Barbra, or the young Brooklynite tapping and rapping to Jay-Z, or a '60s guy like me yearning for the yesterday of Bob Dylan, or a rocker screaming at the Rolling Stones right here in B-K-N-Y, or a child of Brooklyn cheering for the hometown team, the Brooklyn Nets.
This arena will hear laughing, it will hear crying, it will hear applause, it will hear boos, it will hear joy, it will hear disappointment, exaltation, defeat, victory, happiness and sadness. Championships will be won, and championships by the other team will be lost.
Bloomberg focused on the transportation, noting he got to the arena via "the subway, naturally...you're never going to find a better or faster way to get to Barclays Center than by subway. There is as much mass transit under this building than there is under any place in NYC, even in Manhattan." But of course, that's exactly what many Brooklynites don't want: "This neighborhood didn't need this. We don't need Manhattan here," said Park Slope resident Shennetta Porter, who has lived in the neighborhood for 42 years. "The building looks like one of the monsters from Transformers," she noted.
Porter's friend Loretta McDonald, who has lived in Park Slope for over 60 years, said she felt similarly as her friend, but had recently warmed up to the building: "They always say Brooklyn is going to change. You can't do anything about change. At first I thought, 'This is a big monster coming here.' But the more I look at it, the more I like it. It's bringing in jobs."
The fact the arena has brought in around 1,500 new jobs was repeated by both Bloomberg and Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz. Although for Markowitz, this arena is as much about pride as it is anything else: "When the Dodgers left, it was another punch in the face to the fact that Brooklyn's best days may not be ahead, but may have been behind us. It was depressing." Watch most of his speech below:
There are some cool features included for the sake of the community: the oval oculus in front is a privately-owned public space that Pasquarelli claims will be open to the public at all times (although if/when protests happen, we'll see how that goes). Fans will be able to see the scoreboard inside the arena from outdoors, and they can also get a glimpse of the practice court from one side of the arena.
East New York resident Nurideen Islam, who was hanging outside the ceremony, was impressed by the building...but not enough to change allegiances: "I'm a Knicks fan still, but everybody likes a little brother." Borum Hill resident Sam Hall was much more excited about what the arena, which he called "a shot of adrenaline for the whole area. Things can't stay the same...You have to adjust. Two hundred years ago, lower Manhattan was a pig farm!" And he's already been swept up in everything: "I'm not a rap fan, but I even tried to buy tickets to Jay-Z here the day they went on sale."