With celebration and opposition, the groundbreaking ceremony was held last Thursday for the Barclays Center at Atlantic Yards, which has plans to bring the New Jersey Nets to Brooklyn. Several big names attended the ceremony, including Gov. David Paterson, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the Rev. Al Sharpton and Brooklyn-born rapper and businessman Shawn “Jay-Z” Carter.”
The 18,000-seat sports and entertainment arena is being developed by Forest City Ratner Companies, which will operate the area in partnership with Mikhail Prokhorov’s Onexim Sports and Entertainment. The Barclays Center has plans to host more than 200 events.
“Today, we begin the next phase of construction on the Barclays Center and celebrate a new phase for the community it will serve,” said Paterson. “This is a boon for Brooklyn and for all.”
Construction has been ongoing since last fall, and last Thursday’s ceremony marks the next phase of construction of the arena, which is expected to open in 2012.
Sharpton spoke at the groundbreaking ceremony in support of the project and said he was confident that everyone will get their fair share of jobs, housing and employment.
“I believe that the jobs and the contracts and inclusion that this project represents is something we should bring around this country,” he said. “We are in the 21st century and we must expand.”
Rapper Jay-Z, who is a partial owner of the Nets, said that the project represents hope for Brooklyn. “I’m very happy, I’m very excited on this day. We did it again Brooklyn!” he said.
The 675,000-square-foot venue will be home to the professional basketball team the Brooklyn Nets. Not since 1957, when the Dodgers left, has Brooklyn had a major league sports team.
The first phase of the project includes the arena and five other buildings, most of which will be a residential combination of market-rate and affordable housing. A hotel and office building could also be built. Phase two of the project includes eight acres of open space and neighborhood retail.
Developers say that the Barclays Center will create 17,000 union construction jobs and up to 8,000 permanent jobs when the project is complete. Bruce Ratner, of Forest City Ratner, said that the project is creating buzz across Brooklyn.
“We did not at the time anticipate that Atlantic Yards would be such an important economic engine,” he said. “We are a city that continues to grow and prosper, and Atlantic Yards will for many years stand as a reminder that we can build and create jobs and homes and dreams, even during the most difficult of economic times.”
Bloomberg said that the project’s creation of over 25,000 construction and permanent jobs is an example of investments the city needs. “The Barclays Center at Atlantic Yards is the first piece of what will be one of the largest private investments and job generators in Brooklyn’s history,” he said.
However, as fanfare and celebration was in the air, protest and opposition was not far away. During last week’s groundbreaking ceremony, protestors who believe the Barclays Center is unfairly displacing residents let their voices be heard. But years of protest and over 34 lawsuits against Forest City Ratner from business owners and residents could not stop the Barclays Center from coming. Over 20 residents and businesses close by are being evicted and must be out by April 3.
Protesters blew whistles, held signs, chanted and used noisemakers to show their outrage against the project that many say will change the face of the neighborhood.
According to the organization Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn (DDDB), the Atlantic Yards Project would be “instant gentrification.” DDDB believes that 64 percent of housing from the project will go toward high-income families.
“Today is a very sad day to be a Brooklynite. Our state government, long mired in corruption and scandal, has bent over backwards to give Bruce Ratner whatever he wants, including my home, and the homes of other citizens. I am angry with our so-called political leaders, who proudly stand by their abuse of power,” said Daniel Goldstein. “They’re having a groundbreaking for a money-losing arena during a housing crisis. No benefit for those who need it most. It was an exclusive party. A lot of attention was given to Jay-Z, but he owns 1 percent of the Nets. It was a sad day. We were limited by the police who overreacted. I was very proud of the protest and the enthusiasm because of the anger over what was being celebrated. It was an abusive process to get to that day.”
Goldstein said the numbers being tossed around are far from the truth.
“Governor Paterson, the mayor and Ratner had different numbers,” said the homeowner. “They are way inflated from reality. They talk about all these jobs. The arena is not an economic engine for the city. They can talk all day long about how wonderful this project is, but what they were breaking ground for is a money-losing arena during a housing crisis. The Nets are not the Dodgers. This has nothing to do with Brooklyn but getting a professional sports team but the land in Brooklyn to lose it. What should be going on are investigations, not celebrations. We advocated to develop the rail yards. The fight against Atlantic Yards is over, but we are realistic. The state has taken over that 22 acres. It appears there will be an arena, but we doubt it will be open in 2012. They removed a piece of a neighborhood they said was blighted, but wasn’t.
“Out of 45 Brooklyn politicians, only six were there at the event. Very few politicians wanted to be at the groundbreaking.”
DDDB is also charging that the project is an abuse of eminent domain. A suit remains in Manhattan State Supreme Court and an oral argument will take place next month.