After nine years, hundreds of lawsuits, billions of dollars, and endless bickering, the centerpiece of a bold plan to remake the heart of Brooklyn into a world-class destination and home to thousands of new residents makes its debut Friday.
With the snip of a ribbon, the $1 billion Barclays Center — home of the Brooklyn Nets and an entertainment Mecca to rival Madison Square Garden — will officially be open for business.
Manning the shears will be mega developer Bruce Ratner, a former city official praised by some as a visionary, derided by others as Machiavellian manipulator with backroom connections.
It was Ratner who sold the city and state on the controversial arena and the larger $4 billion Atlantic Yards project, saying it would deliver a brighter future for his native borough.
But Ratner’s longtime opponents don’t see it that way, arguing that the rusted-metal-clad arena at Atlantic and Flatbush Aves. will only hasten the “Manhattanization” of their beloved borough. Protesters, too, will be out in force Friday.
Critics also wonder when they will see the 10,000 “permanent” jobs Ratner promised when he first floated his proposal, when he’ll make good on his vow to build 2,250 “affordable” rental units or build acres of promised public open space, schools and other public facilities.
“We’re not fighting them to deconstruct the arena, that’s over,” said Daniel Goldstein of Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn, one of the groups that battled Ratner. “We will be there to remind people of the things that were promised and not done. We believe this is a bait and switch. We need to get something done there that benefits the community.”
Ratner said the gradual process will begin Friday, not only with the opening of the arena, but also an announcement that he will finally break ground on the first of three long-delayed residential buildings surrounding the arena.
The first building will rise 32 stories and feature 363 apartments — half of those for low- and middle-income tenants.
“We filed a building foundation permit” and will break ground on an apartment building before end of year, Ratner said.
Ratner has acknowledged that the downturn in the economy has delayed his plans, but he takes solace from the 400 Brooklyn residents who have already gotten jobs at the project.
“One man came over to me and said, ‘I was out of work for 10 months. I used to work for Nissan,’” he said. “There were tears in his eyes. That is satisfaction.”
But only 200 of the 2,000 new jobs are full-time, said Ratner spokesman Joe DePlasco. “We anticipate they will be union jobs,” he added.
DePlasco did not provide any salary information, but said the cooks, counter-people and other food service workers will all be trained by customer-friendly Disney.
For years, opponents and supporters were united by one thing: no one knew if this day would ever come.
Ratner sparked controversy from the moment he unveiled his then-$2.5 billion 16-skyscraper arena, hotel and residential mega-development in late 2003.
Then designed by starchitect Frank Gehry – who was later fired in a cost cutting move after the project ballooned to $4 billion while the economy was cratering — Ratner promised affordable housing, rail renovations, open space, and an arena that would put Brooklyn on the world stage.
All of it, he said, would be crammed onto 22 acres of low-rise Prospect Heights, a neighborhood of $1 million brownstones but also high unemployment and need for housing.
Almost half of Ratner’s project — 8.4 acres, to be exact — would rise above a grim Long Island Rail Road train yard, a scar-like swath that separated Prospect Heights from Fort Greene.
Ratner got the air rights to that MTA yard for just $100 million — half of their appraised value — in a deal that opponents have called the “original sin” of Atlantic Yards.
For the politicians, Ratner held out the promise to returning a major sports team to a borough that never got over losing the Dodgers to Los Angeles in 1957. And everyone wanted those 2,250 affordable rental units.
Ratner’s political allies put the full power of the state behind the arena in the form of public subsidies and, more important, eminent domain. The threat of having the state seize homes pressured many residents to quickly sell to Ratner — though most got better-than-market-rate settlements.
But some residents fought back, filing 200 eminent domain lawsuits and a half-dozen other lawsuits, mostly citing what they called a “sham” environmental review of the project.
But the suits only delayed the wrecking ball.
Goldstein, 42, who lived in a building that sat in the footprint of the proposed project, stayed put until he was evicted. He got $3 million in compensation and moved to Park Slope.
“It’s appalling that here in the United States, in Brooklyn, N.Y., people (were) forced from their homes for the benefit of a developer,” said Patti Hagen of the Prospect Heights Action Coalition, an opposition group.
Team Ratner insists the arena is for all Brooklynites, not just the rich.
Two-thousand seats costing $15 have been set aside for sale on game day. And Jay-Z’s eight-concert series that will christen the arena beginning on Sept. 28 features $7,000 tickets per night priced at just $30.
The word “Brooklyn” is not written anywhere on the outside of the area, but the borough’s brand is front and center inside — from the Jay-Z-designed all black uniforms to the Brooklyn Brewery beer, Junior’s cheesecake and Nathan’s hot dogs on sale.
The Nets will play on court with a herringbone pattern that echoes the classic flooring found in existing Brooklyn brownstones. But the neighborhood it sits on, is gone forever.