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Atlantic Yards Nets Arena: From "World Class" to Provincial Crass

The new design for the Nets arena by architectural firm Ellerbe Becket.
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The new design for the Nets arena by architectural firm Ellerbe Becket.

After news broke yesterday that developer Bruce Ratner had officially replaced starchitect Frank Gehry's striking design for a big, $1 billion arena in downtown Brooklyn, the Times released a rendering of what the new arena would look like. And wow, eat your heart out, Indianapolis! To save $200 million, Ratner enlisted Kansas City design firm Ellerbe Becket to completely redesign the stalled arena, which he needs to begin building by the end of the year, when his right to use tax-exempt financing expires.

So redesign it they did, if by redesign you mean a banal homage to any number of unremarkable "field house" arenas across America; places where you can watch college ball, check out weekend flea markets, and sometimes see Ice Capades. But that last diversion won't even be an option for New Yorkers, because unlike Gehry's design, the Ellerbe Becket reboot doesn't include a rink. Of course, there's nothing inherently wrong with a modest, utilitarian hangar like this, but after all Ratner's talk about Gehry's "world class" designs, and all the legal battles and controversy and threats, this is best they could come up with for Brooklyn?

It's tempting to call it a joke, but it's on taxpayers and Brooklyn residents and businesses the city has been trying to relocate for years. In a press release announcing the new design, Ratner blames opposition groups for delaying this boondoggle for so long that the "slowing economy" finally made the more ambitious designs untenable. Develop Don't Destroy, the developer's main foe, fires back, and sees the whole debacle as a bait and switch:

[Forest City Ratner] should blame themselves for their arena going from really bad to worse... Here's our explanation: Forest City Ratner's reckless incompetency as a mega-developer, leading to an inability to manage costs. Because if incompetency is not the reason, then it is very likely that Ratner never intended to construct a Gehry-designed arena, but rather used the starchitect for publicity to gain respect and applause from cultural critics and media elites, and get the project approved. And then, throw the Gehry design under the bus.

Later this month, Ratner will need the MTA to approve a deal wherein, instead of buying that nine-acre railyard in the footprint of the Atlantic Yard's site for $100 million, he'll pay the cash-strapped MTA a $20 million down payment while he delays construction of a permanent replacement railyard for at least several years. (The land was originally appraised at over $200 million.) And the Empire State Development Corporation will need to approve the new arena. In a statement yesterday, the Municipal Art Society said, "The replacement of Gehry further reduces the public benefits of the project, which urgently needs re-evaluation and oversight." And Atlantic Yards Report wonders what happened to the planned tower that used to be called "Miss Brooklyn." Also, where did "the much-touted Urban Room, a large, glass-enclosed public space" go?

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