Monday, September 23, 2013

The Barclays boom? Sunny Daily News package on arena's first year allows few discouraging words, less analysis

The New York Daily News, sponsor of the Daily News Plaza at the Barclays Center and a longtime cheerleader for the arena, produced a package of mostly puff pieces yesterday saluting the arena at one year. While a small amount of criticism and contradictory information snuck in, the newspaper didn't look hard enough.

Yes, the arena has gotten mostly good reviews from visitors, drawn healthy crowds for the Nets, and booked more concerts than anticipated. That surely makes the Barclays Center a success by several measures, but it does not make the arena--much less the overall Atlantic Yards project--a success without major caveats.

There was no mention of any untoward local impacts--surely fewer than feared, but still significant on the blocks nearest the arena. Nor acknowledgment that two retail spaces around the arena itself remain empty, while those on Atlantic Avenue lag.

Nor any recognition why mention of the arena at a mayoral forum might provoke scorn.  Nor why there's an inflatable rat, symbol of union protest, outside the arena. Nor any hard questions--in fact, the articles are framed so that critical information is met with a more positive anecdote in response.

The Daily News, of course, didn't mention that business relationship.

The Barclays boom?

One semi-critical article was sunnily headlined Local Brooklyn businesses feel Barclays boom: Concert, game traffic brings new faces to neighborhood places. Yes, there are new faces, especially at bars and restaurants very near the arena, but the article actually provided several data points that contradicted the notion of a "boom."

One restaurant said it gets little post-event business. And here's a gentle summary of the issue:
“Some restaurants and bars have had a boost in pre- and post-event business,” said Andrew Rigie, executive director of NYC Hospitality Alliance, a restaurant umbrella group. “But others feel the increased foot traffic hasn’t led to the increase in revenue they had hoped for. In any case, the excitement … created by the (arena) presents opportunities for businesses trying to capture a piece of the action.”
And talk of a "sales spike" at Modell's, an arena neighbor and partner, is not exactly representative, because another neighbor has a different account:
“My business has been great. But we are not seeing a big difference from the Barclays Center,” said Murat Uyaroglu, who owns the chi-chi Hungry Ghost bakery.
Who to blame?

As rent for space near the arena is double the price not so far away, Council Member Letitia James said it was "displacing mom-and-pop shops, which are the backbone of our economy.”

Then consider:
But Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz, one of the biggest supporters of the arena, hailed the first year as a major success.
“I see nothing but positive,” he said. “[Critics) will always nitpick. They just can’t come to grips that it’s becoming a Brooklyn icon. More people are spending more time in Brooklyn and the arena is a part of it.”
He acknowledged that rising rents are becoming a problem throughout Brooklyn, leading to an influx of banks and franchise stores. “It’s not the fault of the arena,” he said. “As property values go up, landlords that own commercial are going to charge more.”
Markowitz wants to have it both ways. If we're supposed to credit the arena (in part) for the boom, doesn't it also deserve blame?

The fact is: the arena, along with gentrification, has been driving out small stores. That's good for landlords, sure. But the balance between serving locals and serving visitors is changing.

Should The Chocolate Room get bounced because the landlord thinks he can get more from another arena bar? Ditto for Vegetarian Palate, which actually lost business thanks to arena-goers monopolizing local parking.

Who measures success?

Another article summarizes the news, Barclays Center at 1 year: A 'true Brooklyn success story': 2,000 employees, surging property values and a local business boom.
Ticket and concession sales are booming at the glass and weathered steel-fronted sports and entertainment complex which has seen more than 2 million customers come through its doors and is now ranked as the country’s No.1 concert venue.
While profits are lagging because of the high cost of running the arena, Forest City Ratner executive chairman Bruce Ratner calls the Barclays Center “a great financial success.”
What exactly does that mean? For whom? There should be some third-party verification of what "financial success" means. I suspect it's more a success for Ratner than the public.

But other cheerleaders are quoted:
“There is no question that the Barclays Center — America’s most beautiful arena — is a true Brooklyn success story,” said Brooklyn Borough president Marty Markowitz. 
The arena has brought jobs to the neighborhood, employing 2,000 people — 80% are Brooklyn residents and one third are from local housing projects — though 1,900, are part-timers.
Brisk event and food sales and the fat payroll of the Brooklyn Nets — amounting to more than $120 million — are boosting the city’s tax revenues.
Wait a sec. How much do employees earn a week? The Daily News didn't ask, and Ratner's people have never told us.

What about that payroll? Seven of the Nets lived in New Jersey and weren't subject to NYC income taxes. Even the $120 million were paid to exclusively city residents, that would mean approximately $4.65 million in new city taxes, far less than what Ratner saved on land for the project.

How to count the jobs

The article quotes a critic:
“It is good to have jobs created in this part of Brooklyn, no doubt,” said Gib Veconi, treasurer of the Prospect Heights Neighborhood Development Council which has sued Forest City Ratner and the Empire State Development Corp. over delays at Atlantic Yards, which has slowed down the project’s planned affordable housing. “But for the government subsidies received, many more living wage jobs should have been created.”
Then, in Daily News style,comes a not-quite-rebuttal:
Forest City Ratner spokeswoman Ashley Cotton noted that in addition to the 2,000 employed by the Barclays Center, thousands of other jobs have been spawned including “local restaurant jobs, architects, truck drivers, graphic designers, tech people and many, many others who touch Barclays Center in one way or another.”
Local impact

The article quotes an observer who's gathered some data:
[Sharon Davidson, executive director of the North Flatbush Avenue Business Improvement District] added that a much-anticipated “trickle effect” from the Barclays Center has yet to happen for many merchants in her district. “The arena is working with Forest City Ratner and the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce to come up with some ideas to get visitors to visit our establishments,” she said.
The rebuttal, in closing: comes from Carlo Scissura, president of the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce:,
“Places are packed. I have personally waited to get into Woodland,” Scissura said, referring to the Flatbush Ave. restaurant situated four and half blocks away from the arena.
“Two years ago there was a hole in the ground with nothing,” he added. “We now have America’s hottest arena, a new boosterism of the borough, and award shows. It’s a positive for the entire city.”
That's an anecdote, not a study.

The modular story

An article headlined Barclays at 1: Taking the next step: Assembling the world's largest modular building, bringing new tenants and business to Brooklyn
“Once we’ve cracked the code of building modular high-rise housing, there’s no telling what could happen,” said Melissa Roman-Burch, senior vice-president for development at Forest City Ratner.
The tower will not only transform this little corner of Brooklyn, bringing the first 363 of 6,000 apartments to Atlantic Yards, but it could well remake the entire housing industry in the city, saving both time and money for developers and tenants.
There's no mention that the apartments would be smaller than promised, or that unions and industry groups (which have filed suit) have criticized the Department of Buildings' willingness to bend its rules for Forest City Ratner. Or that the B2 tower is delayed.

New open space

The Daily News reports sunnily regarding the housing:
It will also bring the largest open space to the neighborhood since the creation of Fort Greene and Prospect parks a century-and-a-half ago. Eight acres of plazas and lawns will surround the 14 towers between Sixth Avenue and Vanderbilt Avenue.
Granted that part of the project could take another decade or two to complete.
"Granted"--ha.

The open space would not so much surround the towers as be surrounded by them. And the number of new residents means that the open space would likely not be so useful to "the neighborhood."

What about the platform

The article states:
Forest City still has to build a costly platform over the LIRR railyards, but there is a block on the southeast corner of the site, along Vanderbilt Avenue, where at least two towers are planned and could potentially rise.
Forest City has put off plans to build this platform.

The sports desk

An article headlined Barclays Center at 1 year: The top moments in sports: The Nets, boxing, WWE were main attractions began:
Where once there was a giant void in Brooklyn, there is now year-round sports in an eager and accommodating venue.
Um, the term "giant void" is most accurate as a description of the site as demolished, not the working railyard and neighboring blocks.

But Stefan Bondy, in his summary of the Nets' plans for a home opener against the Knicks, even forgets how he was a cheerleader for the game to be played in the wake of Sandy.

The music desk

An article headlined Barclays at 1: Music's A-list came to Brooklyn: From Jay-Z to Barbra Streisand, the Rolling Stones to the VMAs:
The first concert held at Barclays Center, one year ago next week, doubled as a dare.
When Jay-Z took the stage of the virgin arena, he offered the toughest possible test of its sonic chops. The density of the rapper’s verse, and the bass rumble of his rhythms, could fracture the fidelity of audio systems in the most sophisticated of venues. But, at this inaugural event, Jay’s words cut through, knife-clean, and his bass lines kept their crucial bounce.
As a result, fans got to bask in the crispest possible live experience of the rapper’s music, a feat in a venue of this size and construction. Small wonder so many stars have anointed Barclays as their prime New York-area concert stop.
The MTV Video Music Awards "used the borough as its virtual co-star, snaking its stars through a replica of the Brooklyn Bridge," the newspaper reported, without mentioning the impact on the actual residents of the borough nearby.

The high-low city

The article states:
As 18,000 capacity arenas go, Barclays boasts a relative intimacy. The steep grade of the seats leans fans closer to the action, even in the ear-poppingly high seats. The architecture also eases the imposition of the space. The wide open plaza out front, and the fact that the building scales low at its entry before swooping higher behind, makes Barclays seem friendlier, and less out-of-scale, to the surrounding area. Windows flanking the Atlantic Avenue side of the structure further open the venue to its neighbors, warming its image.
That "friendlier" scale and "high-low city" depends on the failure to build a promised office tower containing jobs.

2 comments:

  1. Anonymous7:54 AM

    I admit that I don't read anything in the Daily News about AY without a vomit bag in hand, but last night I got into a somewhat heated argument at Hanks with the typical Manhattanite who sung all the party line notes: "This was a high-crime neighborhood before Barclays;" "Look what you have NOW...the Atlantic Antic," "People from Brooklyn will have self-esteem they never had before." But what really took the cake was his claim that no towers are being built. Just wondering, is the Daily News lying about that too, and are they airbrushing the crane out of area photos Soviet style?

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  2. There's a crane in this article. There's also a rendering of the planned building.
    http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/brooklyn/building-barclays-article-1.1461562#ixzz2fccEo6EI

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