Tuesday, April 09, 2013

Did greenmarkets, holiday fairs, and community programming come to the Barclays Center plaza? So far, promotional activities

The Barclays Center plaza was announced with some big promises.

"Forest City Ratner is very interested in working with the community to find out what the right kind of programming is," arena architect Gregg Pasquarelli said 9/29/10. "We just looked at examples around the city... whether it's something as simple as cafe seating… Wouldn't it be great to have to have a live digital feed of Prospect Park on the inside of the oculus?"

Neither have arrived, other than very limited cafe seating associated with Starbucks.

Also possible, Pasquarelli suggested, were fashion shows "or maybe a movie night, which we think would be fantastic… bring chairs, blankets,... you could actually project the film on the inside of the oculus... what would actually happen be determined in the future in combination with the community."

Nothing of the sort has happened. There is, of course, still time for plaza programming to emerge, and for the emerging BID (business improvement district) to take charge.

Craig Barritt/Getty Images North America
But so far the plaza has been used more for promotional activities such as the AmexUnlocks promotion (above right) last October, in which fans could make videos that could get them into Nets games, or the Advil Relief in Action hype last week (left).

Urban Room promises

There was never supposed to be a plaza in the first place: Atlantic Yards was justified as a net gain in tax revenues because of a giant office tower at the intersection of Atlantic and Flatbush avenues.

According to the July 2006 General Project Plan released by the Empire State Development Corporation, the ground floor space surrounding the new subway entrance was part of a soaring  atrium, an Urban Room, built into that flagship tower:
An Urban Room connected to the Arena will serve as a significant public amenity by accommodating the major flows of people to and from the transit center during the day and night, serving as a direct subway entrance to the Arena and allowing for a variety of public uses and programmed events throughout the year.
Andy Wiley-Schwartz, then of Project for Public Spaces, in 2006 called the Urban Room "the most important public space in the plan, because it will have the most people in it. And it has a subway entrance. And they have agreed to keep the subway entrance open all the time. You’d hope that there would be public things of interest, like the Christmas market at Grand Central, so it would be programmed in a way that would make it a destination."

Gotham Gazette reported, in an August 2006 article on open space:
It is also not clear whether the 10,000-square-foot "Urban Room" in the arena will function as intended. "It is being marketed as the Grand Central for Brooklyn, but it's configured like it's going to be a lobby to the arena," said [Jasper] Goldman [of the Municipal Art Society]. "Will it function as a public space given that?"
"We do hope people use the Urban Room to access activities at the arena," said [Joe] DePlasco of Forest City Ratner. "But beyond that, we hope that it is a comfortable place to just sit, rest, and watch other people. There will be programming there as well, including music, art displays and other activities."
For now, of course, the urban plaza has been mostly a waiting area for the arena, with event-related vendor sales.

Urban Room revised

The June 2009 Modified General Project Plan maintained the same outcome:
An Urban Room connected to the Arena will serve as a significant public amenity by accommodating the major flows of people to and from the transit center during the day and night, serving as a direct subway entrance to the Arena and allowing for a variety of public uses and programmed events throughout the year.
Key: 7 = retail kiosk + stadium seating; #8 = performance surface
However, the associated Technical Memorandum acknowledged delays, with a "for illustrative purposes only" image (above) that, from today's perspective, seems fanciful, given the very limited greenery and lack of amenities:
Until Building 1 construction commences, the future Urban Room area at the southeast corner of Flatbush and Atlantic Avenues would be occupied by an outdoor urban plaza. The urban plaza would follow the basic use and design principles of the Urban Room in order to create a significant public amenity. It is anticipated that the plaza would include the following elements:
• Trees in planters, to provide shade;
• Retail kiosks that incorporate stoop-like bleacher seating into their structure. These kiosks
could provide food and beverages or other retail uses;
• Social seating (benches and fixed tables) as well as loose seating;
• The new transit entrance, which will be provided even if there is a delay in the construction of Building 1;
• A prominent sculptural element, such as a large piece of public art; and
• A generously sized, flexible program space to allow for formal and informal public uses
such as outdoor performances, temporary markets, art installations, and seating.
... As described above, the plaza also would include small kiosks for retail and cafĂ© use... This interim use of the Urban Room area would be designed by the project
sponsor to provide a usable, welcoming amenity for the surrounding neighborhood.
Optimism in 2010 

Forest City Ratner executive MaryAnne Gilmartin, according to the 6/16/10 Real Deal, also predicted much activity:
The area in front of the arena will house 12,000 square feet of open space, she said, and a rebuilt subway entrance (previously in disuse) covered with flowering plants. There will be benches and seating in the plaza, along with retail shops, and the space will house greenmarkets and other outdoor events, she said.
When the plaza design was unveiled in September 2010, the New York Observer accepted some Ratner optimism, in Fashion Week When  to Atlantic Yards?:
Though it will someday be capped by a sizable office tower, a new SHoP-designed public plaza at the entrance to the under-construction Brooklyn Nets arena was unveiled today. The key features of the roughly 39,000-square-foot plaza are a greenroof-capped subway entrance and a large oculus at the prow of the arena with programmable, wrap-around displays. Everything from live game footage to Prospect Park live-cams has been contemplated.
"We're very excited about the programming opportunities for this space," Gilmartin said at a 9/29/10 public meeting. "We're looking at the possibility of a farmer's market, movie nights, and other events and festivities.

When, on 9/28/10, the plaza was unveiled, the press release was headlined PLAZA AT BARCLAYS CENTER TO INCLUDE NEW TRANSIT ENTRANCE WITH GREEN ROOF, LANDSCAPING AND OPEN SPACE FOR COMMUNITY PROGRAMMING:
The Plaza, which will serve as the primary entryway to the arena, integrates a new transit entrance with environmentally conscious landscaping, intimate seating areas and flexible open space that can be used for community programming and arena events. The Plaza will be sponsored by ADT, one of the founding partners of the Barclays Center.
(Emphasis added)

Now, the plaza is sponsored by the New York Daily News, from which many encouraging words are heard.

Like a park?

The press release quoted the developer:
"We of course want the Plaza to function well as a gateway to the Barclays Center," Mr. Ratner said. "But it was also designed much like a park so it can be programmed for community events and diverse activities, such as a greenmarket and holiday fairs."

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