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Debate continues over new Nets arena

Barclays Center{jathumbnail off}

The new Brooklyn arena for the relocating New Jersey Nets (NBA) continues to generate controversy; community activists opposing Atlantic Yards won a court decision but failed to persuade a judge to stop construction on Barclays Center.

On Wednesday, state Supreme Court Justice Marcy Friedman held that Empire State Development Corporation used bad numbers to determine the environmental impact of the sprawling Atlantic Yards project and ordered a new environmental review from the state, including a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS).

However, she did not halt construction on the first phase of the project, nor did she halt progress on the second phase, which will include surface parking and more. Steel construction of the arena is now at the halfway point, while construction of the façade should begin this week.

So, what’s the practical end to this continuing litigation? Hard to say. The arena construction goes on, and planning for the second phase of the Atlantic Yards construction will continue. It may take longer to finish the second phase if it’s delayed by more paperwork to be reviewed by bureaucracy and the courts, but really the win in court last week was more a matter of process being reviewed than any decision on the merits of the project. Recognizing the courts won’t provide relief, Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn — one of the group challenging the Atlantic Yards project — issued the following statement and called on Gov. Andrew Cuomo to get involved:

“While the Court felt it could only reverse the approvals for Phase II and require a new environmental review, it is time for Governor Cuomo to assert control over the ESDC and the project site and require a complete reassessment of the Atlantic Yards project,” said DDDB attorney Jeffrey S. Baker. “We regret that the Arena is going forward. However, the project was never justified in phases. All of the purported benefits would have come from full development, not a stand-alone arena and a couple of high-rises.”

“DDDB has always argued that the claimed benefits were illusory and would never occur and the community would be burdened by a poorly conceived project. It is now clear that the timeframes and benefits of the original project were never even remotely feasible,” said DDDB Legal Director Candace Carponter. “We call on Governor Cuomo to ensure that the ESDC do an honest, unbiased analysis of the redevelopment of Atlantic Yards and consider a project that truly provides affordable housing, public opens space and meaningful benefits in a timely and financially feasible manner. ESDC should look at all aspects of the project, except the arena, and utilize the Unity Plan or other similar community inspired approaches to redevelop the area.”

Appeals are always possible. But in practical terms, the decision means the arena construction will continue.

Meanwhile, the arena continues to garner good reviews in the press, including this latest one from the New York Daily News, which drew an apoplectic response from arena opponent Norman Oder. (He also took aim at a Crain’s New York article here.) And it’s probably time for Oder and DDDB to back off: to argue that a development today should be guided by a master plan from 2006 — when the economic climate was dramatically different — is to be ignorant of the realities of business. Oder, in particular, shows a lack of understanding of the economics of arenas these days versus three years ago.

For instance: when Barclays Center was first planned, traditional arena design was less open and stressed three kinds of seating: suites, club and general. That model has been blown up in recent years, as the trend has been toward many more levels of offers: besides the traditional club and general seating, arena designers have been scaling back on generic suites and implemented suites of different capacities as well as larger party and group areas. Oder takes a shot at Barclays Center for offering 30 fewer suites than originally planned three years ago, but that’s just a smart response to the changing marketplace. (Amway Center is a good example of how the different seating elements are now in vogue.)

And Oder may want to note Ellerbe Becket doesn’t exist anymore; it now practices as AECOM.

RELATED STORIES: New Brooklyn arena designed as counterpoint to Garden; Surprise, surprise: Atlantic Yards back in court; Ratner: New Nets arena will open for 2012-13 season; New Barclays Center designs unveiled, with plenty of flash and access; Ellerbe Becket to oversee Nets arena design; Ratner: We expect to build new Nets arena; Is new Nets arena dead? Yes, says architect; Will new Nets arena be scaled back?


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