Monday, July 30, 2012

With arena General Manager gone, more pressure on getting arena systems to work; Forest City exec once warned that "it is essential that the arena be completed by early July 2012" for testing

It's a bit of a mystery, and it has to be troubling for Barclays Center operators. Sports Business Journal reports today on the departure of the arena General Manager and (via NetsDaily's summary):
[John] Sparks decided to "go in a different direction" and left New York a month ago, [arena CEO] Brett Yormark told SBJ. The change is not expected to affect the arena construction timetable.
Well, it won't affect the construction timetable, as the arena's supposed to reach a substantial completion date of 9/5/12, itself nudged back from 8/12/12, after three other adjustments. But they have little more than three weeks after that to get the building ready for the first Jay-Z concert.

Sparks' departure won't make it easier to make the systems work in a complicated building that, Forest City Ratner's top Atlantic Yards executive once said, had "to be completed by early July 2012" to ensure "three to four months" for testing.

In other words, it was already a very tight timetable. Now, they've lost Sparks, who Yormark once said "brings to us a wealth of best practices." So the margin for error diminishes.

It was already a good bet that, upon the official opening Sept. 28, they'd still be working out the kinks to make the building work for both guests or neighbors. Now the likelihood of kinks is greater. After all, the Barclays Center hasn't even announced the hiring of a promised community relations official.

No public explanation

As I reported 7/13/12, this was the very brief statement in a public meeting the day before:
[Forest City External Affairs VP Ashley] Cotton said “we wanted to mention that the [arena] General Manager, John Sparks, has decided to relocate with his family, and has left New York and Barclays Center." David Anderson, who was previously heading the “front of the house” for arena operator AEG, has replaced him.
There was no elaboration regarding Sparks’ departure, nor questions. Sparks, who’d been working since May 2011, had moved from San Antonio.
There was something a little off about that.

No arena operator would want to lose a general manager three months before opening day--it's impossible to find a replacement from outside. Nor would any general manager want to leave before seeing a new arena in the nation's media capital through to opening, at least if things were going smoothly.

I've heard a series of secondhand explanations, all of which go beyond "deciding to go in a different direction."

Forest City: "arena be completed by early July 2012"

In an April 2010 sworn affidavit aiming to ensure that evictions of condemnees could proceed, Forest City Executive VP MaryAnne Gilmartin, who oversees Atlantic Yards, stated (p. 70):
Furthermore, it takes at least three to four months to commission an arena like Barclays Center--i.e., to test and refine the various buildings systems and the various operations (such as security and food services) that must be performing properly and efficiently before the arena can be opened for the professional basketball season. In other words, it is essential that the arena be completed by early July 2012, so that the commission process can be completed by the opening of the basketball season in October 2012.
It should be noted that Gilmartin's affidavit was not exactly airtight, since she also stated that the demolitions of all the buildings on Block 1129, the southeast block, was necessary. Instead, the one rehabbed industrial building, once owned by Henry Weinstein, serves as offices for contractors and construction plans.

Still, even if she was exaggerating by 100 percent, that means it takes six to eight weeks to commission an arena. They have three weeks.

Sparks once upbeat

In an interview last October with a Long Island newspaper, Sparks and his wife, who'd moved from San Antonio, sounded upbeat:
We’re going to have a huge arena, it’s going to be 18,000 people and we’re going to house the Nets there. They’ll be the Brooklyn Nets in 2012. We’ll do 225 events in the first year. I’m taking on the same role as I had in San Antonio, but I’m doing it in the largest stage in the country. “
And he and his wife sounded happy in New York:
Transitioning into New York life hasn’t been too hard, Sparks noted. “A lot of people are asking why we went from Texas to New York — we’re at a different stage of our lives and we wanted to experience more. And it’s really hot in Texas,” Sparks said laughing.
...Sparks’ wife, Gail, is enjoying the area. “I’m excited to be back on the East Coast... It’s very exciting for our family to be able to watch John’s continued success in this field after all the hard work he did serving his country,” Gail said. “Long Island is just far away enough from the city to be quiet but still close enough to be in the middle of everything.”
Sparks's hiring

Inside Hoops reported 5/25/11:
The Barclays Center of Brooklyn has named John Sparks as its General Manager, in which he will oversee the operations of the world-class sports and entertainment venue set to open September 28, 2012.
One of the nation’s most experienced major facility managers, Sparks will be responsible for food and beverage, security, event coordination/services, and parking.
Sparks will also be involved in several aspects of the development of the Barclays Center, including the completion of the standard operating procedures.
Sparks joins the Barclays Center after nine years with Spurs Sports & Entertainment, which included his serving as Vice President/General Manager of San Antonio’s AT&T Center since November 2004. Sparks had been charged with overseeing AT&T Center construction and establishing day-to-day operational procedures for the building.
Prior to joining Spurs Sports & Entertainment, Sparks was director of operations for Philips Arena during which he helped to open the Atlanta sports and entertainment venue.
“John has significant experience in launching major new sports and entertainment facilities,” said Brett Yormark, president and CEO of Brooklyn Sports & Entertainment, the sales and marketing arm of the Barclays Center. “He brings to us a wealth of best practices and will be instrumental in guiding our operational transition to Brooklyn.”

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