Thursday, May 28, 2009

"Home team advantage": what an Ellerbe Becket arena might look like and whether a 2011 opening date is possible

(This is one in an irregular series of articles about issues that a State Senate committee might address when it holds a hearing on Atlantic Yards.)

Two years ago, I pointed out
the essential lie in a 12/10/03 Forest City Ratner press release announcing the Atlantic Yards project (and accompanied by renderings by architect Frank Gehry such as the one at right):
The complex has been planned to look whole and complete during each phase of construction.

Given that many of the 16 towers were scheduled to slowly replace parking as the project proceeded, Atlantic Yards was never going to look "whole and complete." Now, as the developer plans just the arena and one tower, "whole and complete" is even more of a fantasy, and the Municipal Art Society's Atlantic Lots scenario seems more and more plausible.

But it's worth asking state representatives about the timetable to build the arena, whether they've seen designs from a new architect, and whether there are plans for interim open space.

Gehry's arena

Just one year ago, in May 2008, Forest City Ratner issued a new renderings, with more metal than glass on the arena.

But the arena now probably looks very different, especially since it seems that the firm Ellerbe Becket, responsible for many recent arenas, may be in charge of the design. The New York Daily News reported yesterday:
..."Because Gehry's designs are fairly complex, any real changes would probably end up looking like an Ellerbe Becket project," said a former Gehry architect who worked on Atlantic Yards until being laid off late last year. "[Gehry's projects are] relatively difficult to execute."

Gehry gone?

We won't get the official word for two months, according to the Daily News:
Ratner spokesman Joe DePlasco said a reevaluation of Gehry's design would be completed by July, at which point Ratner will determine whether the world-famous architect would remain on the project...

Given that Gehry's laid off his staff working on AY, I'd bet on Ellerbe Becket. And what's notable is that the company's arenas, with one partial exception, are essentially standalone structures, several ringed by parking. 

The exception is the more urban Verizon Center (right) in Washington, DC, which borders a retail complex and is reasonably integrated into an urban neighborhood--though not with housing as close or as connected as was planned for Atlantic Yards.

Arena, 2011?

Forest City Ratner claims that groundbreaking would be this summer, or October, though no date is truly certain.

It's highly unlikely, however, that groundbreaking would come next month, given that the Gehry-or-not decision wouldn't come until July. And, based on the timeline for Ellerbe Becket's recent arenas, it looks like a June groundbreaking is necessary to get the arena open for a basketball season beginning in October two years hence.

So a 2011 arena opening date, even if there are few legal and oversight hurdles, seems quite doubtful.

The arena for the Charlotte Bobcats broke ground in July 2003 and opened in October 2005. The arena for the Memphis Grizzlies broke ground in June 2002 and opened in October 2004. 

It has to take longer to build in Brooklyn, especially given the need to plan for adjacent towers. The original plans, I calculated, would take 32 months.

Looking at Ellerbe Becket's work

The text italicized below comes from the Ellerbe Becket web site, describing the work of its staffers.

The Time Warner Cable Arena in Charlotte

The architect of TimeWarner Cable Arena and BankAtlantic Center, Douglas Brown:
You'd be hard pressed to find a design professional with more sports project management experience than Doug Brown. He's overseen the design of seven NBA/NHL arenas and adjoining practice/training facilities. When the NBA Hornets moved from Charlotte to New Orleans, Doug was there to lead the renovation of the New Orleans Arena and bring it up to NBA standards. Likewise, when Charlotte voted to build an arena to attract a new NBA tenant, Doug oversaw the design and construction of the Time Warner Cable Arena (formerly Charlotte Bobcats Arena). As an Architectural Director, Doug also helps manage the firm’s Kansas City office.

The FedEx Forum in Memphis

Jon Niemuth:
Jon is an inspired conceptual and contextual designer, as evidenced by his “juke joint” concept for the Grizzlies NBA arena just off Memphis’ historic Beale Street. The project, known as FedExForum, has become the new standard for professional themed sports environments with its melding of the Memphis music scene into the overall fan experience. He’s been named to the “Forty Under 40” list of outstanding young professionals by both Building Design & Construction magazine and the Sports Business Journal.

Conseco Fieldhouse in Indianapolis

The architect of Conseco, James Poulson, has a bit of a reputation, at least when it comes to football:
James is a master at maximizing the home team advantage. At Qwest Field in Seattle, the Wall Street Journal noted that James’ design “made sure the wind and rain would disproportionately hit the visitors’ sideline. Mr. Poulson placed the cheapest endzone seats (where, he says, the ‘crazies’ sit) atop steel risers that send thundering noise to the hard surfaces on the overhangs and roof, redirecting it back to the field. The Seahawks are among the NFL’s leaders in false-start penalties called against the visiting teams.” James puts the same kind of intense research and understanding of the client’s needs into every project.
(Emphasis added)

"Home team advantage" sounds a little like Forest City Ratner's lobbying.

The AT&T Center in San Antonio

The architect of AT&T Center, William Crockett, Principal and National Director of Sports:
"We deliver innovation that achieves value," says Bill Crockett, Ellerbe Becket’s National Director of Sports. "Buildings we design are uniquely valuable. We live in a world where every city is becoming the same. This is a great opportunity for innovation." For two decades Bill has led the successful completion of a wide range of technically complex and successful Ellerbe Becket projects for government, private and higher education clients. Bill serves on the firm’s Management Committee and Board of Directors. Bill continues to lead projects in a hands-on manner while implementing diversification and expansion strategies for health sciences and other strategic offerings.

The BankAtlantic Center in Sunrise, FL

This arena is home to the Florida Panthers, the hockey team run by Michael Yormark, brother of Nets CEO Brett Yormark. 

Susan Fulton:
Susan’s tenure with Ellerbe Becket has focused almost exclusively on NBA/NHL professional arenas, like Time Warner Cable Arena (formerly Charlotte Bobcats Arena), FedExForum in Memphis and Conseco Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. She holds invaluable expertise in sightline issues, as well as the operational requirements of arena management, which impact overall design solutions.

The Sprint Center in Kansas City

The Sprint Center in Kansas City was the work of the Downtown Arena Design Team, composed of Ellerbe Becket, HOK Sport + Venue + Event, 360 Architecture and Rafael Architects.

Changing names

Note how many of these venues have changed their names, sometimes because of corporate evolution but other times as business deals changed. BankAtlantic Center was formerly Office Depot Center. Time Warner Cable Arena was formerly Charlotte Bobcats Arena. Verizon Center was formerly MCI Center. ATT&T Center was formerly SBC Center. Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland was formerly Gund Arena.

This suggests that, should the Barclays Center get off the ground, it might not always be the Barclays Center, despite the reported naming-rights deal.

AY Arena 2006

In 2006 graphics, there was a tower at Site 5, between Pacific Street and Flatbush, Atlantic, and Fourth avenues, and there was more glass than the metal in the 2008 rendering (near top).

Here's more on the contrast between the May 2008 and May 2006 Image Galleries.

These distinctions may be moot now, as we await new designs.



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