By Raanan Geberer Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Ratner overcame court challenges, recession to build $1 billion arena
Friday morning, a day came that some people thought would never happen – the ribbon was cut to the new Barclays Center on Atlantic and Flatbush avenues.
Not only will the arena host Brooklyn’s first major sports team since 1957, the Brooklyn Nets, it will present world-class entertainment with Andrea Bocelli, Bob Dylan, the Who, Jay-Z, Barbra Streisand, Disney on Ice and more.
The speeches before the ribbon-cutting were almost like a love fest, with Bruce Ratner, Mikhail Prokhorov, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Borough President Marty Markowitz and others praising each other.
Behind it all was the sense that this was not just a big day for the Nets, it was a big day for all of Brooklyn.
Ratner said that it was not him who was responsible for the arena, it was the collective “we” – he and his associates. With their help, he said, he was able to buy a basketball team, get through the court challenges, get financing, weather the recession, pick the right architects, and more.
He mentioned that the arena created roughly 1,000 construction jobs, and out of the approximately 1,700 permanent jobs it has created, 1,300 are held by Brooklyn residents. The majority of these people, he said, got their jobs through the city’s Workforce 1 centers.
All in all, he said, the arena is poised to generate $406 million through Nets games, concerts and other events.
Mikhail Prokhorov, the primary owner of the Nets, said the day was as significant for Brooklyn as the day the Brooklyn Bridge opened. With the Nets and world-class attractions, he said, the arena will attract people from all over the metropolitan area.
Above all, he praised Ratner for seeing the project through and not becoming discouraged.
“I thought Russians are tough,” he said, “but Bruce Ratner has shown consistent faith and heart. When I saw the big hole in the ground two-and-a-half years ago, it was hard for me to imagine that anything would be built here, but here we are.”
Borough President Marty Markowitz focused on the impact the arena would have on Brooklyn. “With the Civic Center, the Barclays Center and the BAM Cultural District, we now have a new hub in New York City, just like Midtown or Downtown,” he said.
Other speakers included Brooklyn Nets CEO Brett Yormark; Thomas Kalaris, chairman of Barclays’ American operations; a representative of the Community Benefits Agreement; and, a big surprise to many, Charles Ratner, chairman of Forest City Enterprises, Forest City Ratner’s parent company.
Jokingly, Charles Ratner said that when Markowitz, in a nod to Prokhorov, said a congratulatory phrase in Russian, his Brooklyn accent was so pronounced that Prokhorov couldn’t understand him.
He also said that his cousin Bruce, during the development process, often asked his firm for extra funds, “and with Bruce, it’s always millions, not thousands.” Still, his board voted to give Bruce the extra money, he said, because they believed in the project.
Joking aside, he praised Bruce Ratner for being willing to invest in Brooklyn, and New York City in general, at a time when New York was considered to be on the downswing. "He started in 1988 with Pierrepont Plaza, then MetroTech, and now 30 percent of our [Cleveland-based] firm's holdings are in New York."
When the ribbon-cutting ceremony finally came, the lights came on, a loud popping sound was heard, and lots of brightly colored confetti was released.
The state-of-the-art, 18,000-seat arena will be officially christened Sept. 28 with a rap concert by Nets co-owner and native Brooklynite Jay-Z. Local businesses are ready – already, the Modell’s Sporting Goods store across the street was almost totally filled with Brooklyn Nets hats, T-shirts and jerseys.
Interestingly, the new arena was built directly across the street from the spot where Dodgers President Walter O'Malley wanted to erect a new ballpark to replace Ebbets Field. The plan was discouraged by then-New York development czar Robert Moses, after which O’Malley decided to depart for Los Angeles.