Sunday, July 19, 2015

Beschloss on the Dodgers: sentimentalists should focus instead on the Barclays Center; my critique

From historian Michael Beschloss in the New York Times's The Upshot, The Dodgers Departed Long Before Brooklyn Bounced Back:
Some sentimental Brooklynites sadly recall the demolition of Ebbets Field, in the winter of 1960; someone had misguidedly repainted a wrecking ball to make it look like a baseball.
Instead they might do better to focus on the Barclays Center, opened in 2012, which symbolizes Brooklyn’s current economic rebound and its reacquisition of major league sports. Barclays Center happens to stand near one of those parcels of land that Walter O’Malley tried to acquire 60 years ago, when he was imagining that modernistic domed stadium that might keep the Dodgers once and for all in Brooklyn.
Well, there are not so many of those Brooklynites any more, and a heck of a lot happened between the departure of the Dodgers and the arrival of the arena. My comment:
Mr. Beschloss recognizes that "urban governments routinely do somersaults to keep professional sports teams happy," yet casually pronounces that "the Barclays Center... symbolizes Brooklyn’s current economic rebound and its reacquisition of major league sports."
The Barclays Center may be prominent, but that doesn't mean it symbolizes Brooklyn's economic rebound. The seeds for that rebound were planted decades ago, when middle- and upper-middle-class homeowners began investing in rowhouse neighborhoods and new waves of immigrants came to the borough.
Since then, waves of better-off residents and creative types have arrived, prompting various pronouncements about Brooklyn's rebound. The Barclays Center should be seen as riding those waves.
While the "somersaults" turned by the city and state for the Barclays Center are more complicated than in other cases, they are significant: direct subsidies, tax breaks, tax-exempt financing, below-cost public land, & an override of zoning to enable much larger buildings (remember, the arena was used to leverage control of a 22-acre site, with 16 towers).
As for the shorthand regarding the "reacquisition" of major league sports by Brooklyn, a historian knows that, other than in Green Bay, WI, where the locals own the team, Brooklyn doesn't own the Nets or the (coming) Islanders. Very rich men do, profiting from public support. 

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