Sunday, July 17, 2011

Crain's article on arena calls documentary "latest insult," relies on ever-spinning Yormark as main source

In Crain's New York Business today, Barclays Center takes shape at Atlantic Yards: Eight years after it was proposed, the arena is selling tickets. is full of holes, but at least makes a token effort to admit a contrary view.

"Latest insult"

The article begins:
Rising at the intersection of Flatbush and Atlantic avenues, the new home of the New Jersey Nets has survived lawsuits, neighborhood protests and a severe recession. The latest insult is called The Battle for Brooklyn, a documentary critical of the project that opened recently to favorable reviews.
Why exactly is the film, called Battle for Brooklyn (no "The") an "insult"? Couldn't it be a complicating factor in the heroic narrative preferred by Crain's and the New York Daily News?

Meeting preliminary goals

The article continues:
But eight years after developer Bruce Ratner proposed bringing the Nets to the borough as the anchor of the vast Atlantic Yards redevelopment, executives at the $1 billion Barclays Center have turned their attention to the next stage: making sure it turns a profit.

Despite competition from Madison Square Garden, which is being overhauled, and other arenas like the new Prudential Center in Newark, the Barclays Center is having no trouble meeting its preliminary goals, according to Barclays Center CEO Brett Yormark.

Images of the recently completed designs for corporate suites and public areas have just gone on display in the center's midtown showroom as sales efforts ramp up in advance of a September 2012 opening. The 18,000-seat arena has sold close to half of its 100 corporate suites.
If they've sold close to half of the suites, let's say the number is 47.

That's 12 more than one year ago, when the total was 35--not bad, but hardly out of the woods.

But we don't know what those goals were, and how they've changed. After all, as of three years ago, there were supposed to be 130 suites, not 100.

A scoop: college hoops


The article continues:
It also has 163 events booked for the first year, including 44 Nets games. Mr. Yormark said he aims to have more than 220 events in total.

A major highlight will be the site's first basketball game, a college matchup of Kentucky versus Maryland, according to sources. Also scheduled are boxing and tennis events, as well as 48 Feld Entertainment productions, including the Ringling Bros. circus and Disney on Ice.
(Emphasis added)

What does "according to sources" mean. Perhaps that Brett Yormark didn't want to be quoted, because, say, the college teams wanted to break the news themselves. But he wanted to be able to offer a tidbit to the press.

Ticket sales


The article continues:
Additionally, sales of the 4,400 premium season tickets, which top out at $1,500 a game, have “exceeded” expectations, Mr. Yormark said, though he declined to give an exact figure.
Of course he declined to give an exact figure. He wants to control the story.

Borough support?

The article continues:
He insists that the borough is showing its support.

“Both in tickets sales and dollars, Brooklyn is voting yes,” Mr. Yormack said, noting that 41% of the all-access tickets have gone to residents and businesses there. Manhattan-based buyers make up the next biggest group at 24%.

The center is clearly positioning itself as the lower-priced, Brooklyn sports and entertainment alternative to Madison Square Garden. For example, with 10 seats rather than the usual 16, its $215,000 Loft suites are being pitched to small and midsize companies.
Sure, it's plausible that Brooklyn, with its large population, could supply a significant fraction of arenagoers. That doesn't mean that Brooklyn as a whole is "voting yes." That's much more complicated.

And the "Loft suites" are not simply a way to compete with MSG; they're a recognition that the market for suites has changed.

SHoP in charge?

The article continues:
Some of Barclays' interior spaces have an urban look of sleek lines and muted colors, in keeping with the building's weathered-steel shell. SHoP Architects' design replaced a widely derided proposal by a firm that had stepped in for renowned architect Frank Gehry, whose original plan was deemed too expensive.
SHoP's design didn't replace a proposal by Ellerbe Becket; it added onto that proposal.

SHoP is merely the "fa├žade architect," as announced in the bond offering statement--though perhaps it now has some input on the interior.

Delay helped?

Yormark continues to prove why he and Lillian Hellman can be discussed in the same breath:
Mr. Yormark claims that the years of delay helped the arena in the end.

“It enabled us to rethink our strategy and make sure the arena is more suitable to the world we live in today than the world of five or six years ago,” he said.
What does that mean? It means Forest City Ratner could build a smaller, cheaper arena, decoupled from the four towers that were supposed to be built with it.

That saves the developer money. It does not bring the promised public benefits that helped justify the project as a whole.

That lawsuit

The editorial at least mentions the lawsuit:
But developers of the 22-acre Atlantic Yards have yet to convince opponents that the project is a good deal for the public. Just last week, a state Supreme Court judge sided with community groups and ruled against Forest City Ratner and the Empire State Development Corp. The judge ordered a halt to the second phase of Atlantic Yards until the agency conducts a new environmental review.
Actually, the judge didn't order a halt to the second phase; she said a stay was premature, and she'd revisit the issue if it became right.

Unrealistic timetables

The article continues, quoting me:
Foes say the economic benefits depend on unrealistic timetables for completing the 17-building project—which includes office and retail space for which there is currently no market.

“[All the positive] projections depend on Atlantic Yards being built in full within 10 years,” said Norman Oder, a journalist who is writing a book on the controversy and keeps tabs on his Atlantic Yards Report website. “We know that won't happen.”
Is this rebutted? Nope. Does my criticism make me a "foe"? Or does it make me a journalist who, unlike those working for Crain's, follow evidence to conclusions?

The article continues:
A September 2009 study by the city's Independent Budget Office focused strictly on the arena. It showed the city losing $40 million over 30 years on its $170 million investment, with an additional $181 million loss of potential revenue, primarily from the arena's property tax exemption. But a 2010 study by the city's Economic Development Corp. showed a net gain of $411 million from the arena and other buildings.

“There are incredible community benefits—from the housing creation to the job creation,” Mr. Yormark said.
Um, the net gain, as I said, depends on a completely unrealistic scenario--as well as other unrealistic assumptions.

Another arena

The article closes:
Controversy aside, sports and entertainment consultants say that New York has needed another large venue like Barclays. Events that previously had to go to the Meadowlands or the Nassau coliseum will be able to come to Brooklyn.

“That's going to be a very busy building,” said industry consultant Lee Berke.
That may be true--Brooklyn, with subway access, is more accessible than either arena. But the metropolitan area will still have an "arena glut."

And that raises a question for Crain's presumably business-minded readers: why exactly did the federal government have to subsidize the arena with tax-exempt bonds, helping New York State take business from New Jersey?

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