Monday, July 09, 2012

How does 2004 promise of "venue for amateur athletics, graduations, the circus and other family events" fit with Brooklyn Hoops/Show/Boxing/Family? (and how Brooklyn still needs a Sportsplex)


They're really changed how they're promoting the arena, haven't they? For example, Borough President Marty Markowitz once said "I have no doubt that it would also double as a Sportsplex for high school sports," but we haven't heard that kind of talk lately.

At a public meeting June 26 on Barclays Center operations, arena General Manager John Sparks described four or five “major neighborhoods” in which events are distributed.

Beyond the Brooklyn Nets, there will be Brooklyn Show (concerts), Brooklyn Hoops (college), Brooklyn Family (family shows), and Brooklyn Boxing.

Indeed, that's how events are described on the arena web site, as shown in the screenshot at right.

Flashback: 2004

But what were Brooklynites told, in Forest City Ratner's very first mailer, sent to some 300,000 homes over Memorial Day weekend in 2004?

They'd be getting "a venue for amateur athletics, graduations, the circus and other family events."

Perhaps the latter two categories, at least for "family events" with a price tag, might fit into Brooklyn Family.

There really isn't a category for "graduations," though the arena presumably will be available for them, perhaps even among the ten "community events" promised (though yet unscheduled) via the Community Benefits Agreement.

As for "amateur athletics," well, that's a category subject to some linguistic legerdemain. The college basketball tournaments available via Brooklyn Hoops are, technically, amateur athletics

However, as we know, big-time college hoops stretches the definition of amateurism, provoking new calls for such athletes to be paid.

"Amateur athletics" would have been, for many Brooklynites, a reference to a long-planned Sportsplex in Coney Island championed by Markowitz, among others, a venue where multiple events could be held simultaneously, as described below.


A follow-up October 2004 flier distributed by Forest City Ratner promised "a cutting edge venue for community activities and family-friendly events."

The MOU announcement

Such rhetoric was common.

When the first Memorandum of Understanding signed by the city, state, and Forest City was released, then-Gov. George Pataki, in a 3/4/05 press release, promised that "The new Arena will not only be home to the Nets, but will host local community events, as well as concerts and school athletics for neighboring high schools and colleges."

3/4/05 press release
The syntax of that sentence could leave the impression that the "concerts" were "for neighboring high schools and colleges."

Maybe there will be a few, but we sure haven't heard about them.
The Sportsplex

Remember, a planning document prepared by Forest City Ratner predicted just eight college basketball games and five high school sports events.

Now there surely will be more college basketball games. But that's far cry from the 2000 annual amateur sports and community uses (and 12 commercial uses) once predicted for the Sportsplex.

Those were different times.

As I wrote, the Daily News on 11/12/98 (BOROUGH BIGS NEARLY WHIFF ON RUDY'S BALLPARK CURVES) reported that developer Bruce Ratner had "talked with Brooklyn Sports Foundation officials about building the Sportsplex at cost, provided he can build an entertainment complex next door."

On 3/22/02, Markowitz issued a press release about the Borough's State Legislative Agenda, citing a goal to "retain funding for the Coney Island Sportsplex and increase the allocation in order to attract an NBA franchise." Even in 2003, on the day of his next State of the Borough address, the New York Daily News reported (Marty’s Minding Our Manners, 1/23/03):
The borough president also goes to sleep dreaming of bringing a National Basketball Association team to Coney Island.
That plan, of course, fell by the wayside later in the year as Forest City Ratner's plan for Atlantic Yards emerged.

As I wrote last August, in the 8/4/03 Brooklyn Paper [PDF], an article headlined "Nets could take Sportsplex D’town" quoted a very certain Borough President:
For two decades Brooklyn politicos have been dreaming of an amateur athletics arena — a “sportsplex” — for the borough. That dream was shelved when the city instead moved ahead with Keyspan Park in Coney Island.
...Markowitz is doubly excited because he anticipates that the facility could be used as a scholastic and amateur sportsplex when the professional team is not playing.
“It would be a multi-use arena and thus a sportsplex would definitely be included in it,” Markowitz told The Brooklyn Papers.
...But asked whether a sportsplex would be part of the Ratner-Nets arena plan he said, “Without a question. It would incorporate, in my opinion, now once again I’m not the one, I’m not gonna own it, but I have no doubt that it would also double as a sportsplex for high school sports — no question about it. It has to be, and it would be, a borough facility, a borough resource, of course.”
As I suggested, some high school tournaments might be played at the arena, but arena would be less a "borough facility" than a "facility in the borough."

Public purposes

Before Markowitz and Forest City, the focus was strictly on amateur sports. A 6/7/99 Daily News article, headlined SPORTSPLEX SEES SOFTER CITY STANCE, quoted Brooklyn Sports Foundation Chairman Peter Kiernan:
"I believe public land and public money should go for public purposes," Kiernan said, underscoring the foundation's insistence that the Sportsplex be focused on amateur, not professional, sports.
Markowitz, of course, wanted to expand that idea.

It expanded way beyond his imaginings.

At the 5/3/07 hearing on the challenge to the Atlantic Yards environmental review, Empire State Development Corporation attorney Philip Karmel, as I reported, got into trouble when pressed on exactly how a professional sports arena fits the law’s definition of a facility for recreational purposes.

“It generally means you have a community-based basketball team” or other sports team, Justice Joan Madden suggested.

“It would be recreational activity” to watch a basketball game, Karmel responded.

"I thought that was profit-making,” responded the judge.

After a bit, Karmel returned to the theme. “We believe that going to a ballgame is a recreational activity, and having a ball team is a civic event… It brings pride to a community.”

Madden, ultimately, agreed, though, as I suggested, such an expansive definition might render Coney Island's notorious "Shoot the Freak" a civic project.

Golden's aims

Consider this passage from Brooklyn 2000: State of the Borough, an annual report from then-Borough President Howard Golden that I wrote about in August 2007:
After over a decade of advocacy, the Borough President was pleased to learn in 1997 that the city and state governments had each provided $30 million, combined with his $7 million, to fund the creation of the Brooklyn Sportsplex. This major sports facility, dedicated to indoor scholastic, inter-collegiate and amateur athletics, would accommodate 12 events simultaneously through the following facilities.
--an arena for track and field, basketball or ice hockey with 12,300 seats
--a gymnasium accommodating 2000 spectators
--a multipurpose room for a variety of sports
--a boxing gym
--training arenas
--a sports medicine center

With over two million residents and more than 600,000 scholastic, college and amateur athletes active in organized sports, Brooklyn needs and deserves the Sportsplex.
It looks like Brooklyn still needs a Sportsplex.

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