Thursday, June 25, 2009

Booker still optimistic about Nets in Newark, but weak on specifics (as well as promised date of Brooklyn move)

After a week in which governmental approvals--one final, one preliminary--fell into place to hasten the building of the Atlantic Yards project and thus move of the New Jersey Nets to Brooklyn, Newark Mayor Cory Booker is sounding only somewhat less optimistic than he did five weeks ago, when he declared, “I think there's going to be a comeuppance very soon where the team is going to go up for sale.”

That could mean a move, as Booker hopes, to the Prudential Center in Newark, where the Nets this October will play two of three preseason games. But Booker’s optimism should be taken with an extra grain of salt, given that he claimed that the Nets are slated to move to Brooklyn in 2014, not 2011, as developer Forest City Ratner claims, or 2012, as New York government officials and documents suggest.

Opening the WBGO radio show Newark Today with Mayor Cory Booker tonight, host Andrew Meyer pointed out that “it seems like [Nets principal owner Bruce Ratner] is getting his way. Last month you were certain the Nets’ deal was going to fall apart, putting Newark in a good position to get the team. Do you still feel that way now?”

Booker: "Unequivocal"

“Unequivocal,” Booker responded. “I’m still a believer. I still think they have a lot of hurdles to go through. But look--the Nets are planning to play there in 2014, I think, is the year right now. I’m much more focused on creating a one-state solution to the two arenas we have. We’re meeting on a continuous basis."

"There may be opportunities for the Nets to play in Newark well before 2014, and before those issues are settled, I’m still very dubious about their ability, in this economy, to build a structure that large," Booker said.

"I was out in Los Angeles talking to Frank Gehry, the original architect. Everyone that I have talked to who’s been close to this deal has told me that it is such a long-shot, especially now, given the economy. Despite some victories that they’ve had, it’s a very long road... with a lot of hurdles."

The arena battle in New Jersey

Booker then referenced the battle between the aging Izod Center, home of the Nets and a successful run of concerts, and the newer facility in his city, home to the Devils but less established in booking other events.

"For the immediacy, I'm focusing on creating a relationship between the Izod Center and the Newark Prudential Center, to help us stop cannibalizing each other but really have one solution for our two regions," he said. "I’m also focused on getting the Nets to play here even if they end up in Brooklyn, which again I think is not likely, but I’d like to see them play here soon."

Ratner in Newark? Nah

Meyer then asked a question I’d posed via email: whether a Newark solution would only involve Ratner selling the team, or whether it could involve making Ratner a developer in the city.

Booker’s answer indicated that Ratner is unlikely to cross the border. (After all, Ratner’s got a track record in Brooklyn, and would have to learn a new city and establish ties with a whole new groups of elected officials and lobbyists.)

“Look, that’s the great thing about Newark right now,” Booker said. “The development opportunities around the arena are still there." (Others might say things are stalled.)

"I’ve been in conversations for everything from some of the most famous restaurateurs both locally and nationally. Talking to developers about building residential, office space, new city facilities," he said. "There’s a lot of plans on the table, some of them are moving forward rapidly, like a hotel."

"There could be a deal that way," Booker said,"but frankly... the most likely thing that I see that happens is that the team goes up for sale, that it is competed against by Seattle, by Kansas City, and by a New Jersey group. And that I hope that New Jersey is able to keep the team, win the bid, and you see the Nets playing here not just in the short term like I think is a possibility to happen, but in perpetuity."

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