A Look Back at Barclays Center Through the Headlines
While the most recent news surrounding The Barclays Center has concentrated on the sale of Jay-Z tickets the morning of the (appropriately sensational) Friday the 13th, Brooklyn’s new state-of-the-art sports and entertainment arena has been bothered – or blessed – with the ability to generate headlines from the start.
The brainchild of real estate developer Bruce Ratner, The Barclays Center is a billion-dollar venue that will serve as the home of the Brooklyn Nets, and the temporary host of some of the biggest names in live music. As with any high-priced, high-end, highly touted “progressive” venture in the name of public interest and suspected of private greed, Ratner’s gamble has been prone to censure from a variety of niche interests. Niche, that is, in the sense of their separate grievances, though taking a look back at Barclays headlines from the past few years, you get the sense that in between oculus construction and the design of 3D seating charts, the monolithic building has been moonlighting as a kind of social barometer. Jobs, local politics, national politics, small neighborhood interests, large corporate concerns, what’s good for the kids, what’s bad for your safety, media (the and new) are just a few of the cultural nerves the center has blithely or deliberately struck.
Private v. Public: A Brief Overview of Barclays Center History and Controversies
Malcolm Gladwell is the author of one of the more comprehensive articles to have covered the arena. Published a year ago, Gladwell’s “The Nets and NBA Economics” tells the story of the center’s development as it relates to the NBA (the article was published on Grantland.com in the middle of the 2011 NBA lockout). According to Gladwell, Ratner’s acquisition of the New Jersey Nets had very little to do with basketball, and everything to do with politics: Ratner wanted to develop the Atlantic Yards land on which the Barclays Center currently sits, and in order to acquire it, needed some sort of “public use” justification to bolster his chances of invoking New York’s eminent domain rights, which would quite literally clear the way for a new development. Hence the idea for a stadium – a structure intended for “public use” – instead of the commercial and residential buildings Ratner had initially envisioned. Hence the purchase of the New Jersey Nets. Hence, perhaps, the eventual selling of the Nets (after the Atlantic Yards project had been given the go-ahead) to Mikhail Prokhorov.
While Ratner won his eminent domain case, the tug between private interests and the public good has continued to play out in smaller venues. The hot-button topic of jobs has been both a boon and a problem for Barclays PR. In April, Forest City Ratner, Ratner’s development company, announced that the center’s construction would create 2,000 new jobs. That was all well and good, until local reporters began to dig around behind the press release. According to the Clinton Hill Patch, FCR’s 2,000 figure was closer in actuality to 1,240. According to the Atlantic Yards Report, a watchdog blog dedicated to keeping tabs on Ratner’s project, only 100 of those 1,240 jobs are full-time positions.
A Thoroughly Modern Building
There’s a very classic American sensibility of the Little Guy calling out Big Business underlying the local talk of jobs, but in the case of the Barclays Center, the discussion is very much framed in the modern parlance. The state of the economy is a national talking point, grown louder during an election year. Barclays, rightly, recognized and tapped this cultural fixation to fit its promotional ends, and was subsequently scolded for resume-padding. But spinning data isn’t the only modern skill the arena has acquired: the Brooklyn Nets recently struck a deal with a mobile video app called Socialcam, a move on both ends to become the next Facebook-Instagram deal, or at least give them a run for their considerable money.
Finally though by no means exhaustively, the issue of safety at the Barclays Center has been yet another cause for public outcry. The recent announcement that the venue would feature walk-through metal detectors prompted some patrons to declare a personal boycott. Similar to the issue of jobs, which harkened back to the discussion of economic instability ongoing since the 2008 recession, this question of safety can see its counterpoint in recent debates over the necessity of “invasive” airport security.
Empire State of Mind
So what do we do with the Barclays Center? Do we also boycott, in the name of personal invasion? In the name of demanding 100% transparency? In the name of the children?
The social implications of the recent Barclays Center headlines are more interesting than illuminating, more indicative of recent trends than they are trend-shaping. But when you take your seat to watch Jay-Z perform opening night, feel free to consider whose interests you’re supporting: Ratner, Prokhorov, the city of New York, the HOVA media machine.
Or, you can simply enjoy the First Man of Rap as he performs an homage to his city. Sentimental, maybe, but controversy-free.