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The official press release on the BAM-Barclays alliance, the imaginary new "cultural district," and reflections on Bruce Ratner's gift for irony

"I always like to put things that are a little bit ironic together" was the money quote from Bruce Ratner in today's New York Times exclusive on the alliance in which the Brooklyn Academy of Music will bring three or four large-scale shows to fill empty dates at the Barclays Center arena.

The first irony is that this was seen as big news rather than as a question mark over the event projections for the arena. Remember, they've booked 150 shows and aim for more than 200 events a year.

The problem with those numbers is that a Moody's analyst in 2009 said its just-above-junk rating for $511 million in Barclays Center PILOT bonds depended in part on 225 events a year, and Forest City Ratner's  original projection of 225 events depended on no new arena in Newark, though one has since opened.

Eric McClure of No Land Grab found the irony in Ratner's claims of "Jobs, Housing, and Hoops."

Matt Chaban of the Observer cited, among other things, Ratner's ability to get "a rapidly gentrifying stretch of Brooklyn declared blighted, and then condemned" and how he gets "the light touch from the newspaper of record whose headquarters he built."

All those leap the irony threshold, but there's much more.

The new cultural district?

The press release below invents a new cultural district, claiming:
Set to open on September 28, 2012, the Barclays Center will be located two blocks from BAM, creating one of the most vibrant and unique cultural districts in the U.S.
Well, there's already a cultural district around BAM, so no need to create one with a couple of giant malls (Atlantic Terminal and Atlantic Center) in between that district and the arena.

After all, the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership (which includes Forest City Ratner as a member) states:
The Downtown Brooklyn Partnership keeps a master plan for the BAM Cultural District, a vibrant, multicultural arts district in the neighborhood surrounding BAM. This effort involves the conversion of underutilized, city-owned properties into affordable performance and rehearsal space for a diverse array of non-profit visual, performing, and media arts groups.

In other words, just because they claim to be creating a cultural district doesn't mean it's happening. Click on the map at left (from the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership) to expand; it's annotated to show the arena in a red circle below the malls.

Channeling Roger Green

There's an even greater irony. The alliance with BAM could turn the Barclays Center into the "18,000-seat opera house" that Assemblyman Roger Green once said Atlantic Yards protestors might embrace.

From Chris Smith's August 2006 New York magazine article, Mr. Ratner's Neighborhood:
Green isn’t quite so blunt, but he sees the divide over Atlantic Yards almost as starkly. “Here’s the question: If we were building an 18,000-seat opera house, would we get as much resistance? I don’t think so,” he says. “Basketball is like a secular religion for most Brooklynites. The opposition to the arena is actually coming from people who are new to Brooklyn, who lived in Manhattan, mostly. And who have a culture of opposing projects of this nature. People who opposed the West Side Highway project; people who opposed the Jets stadium; people who opposed a host of other things. Some of those families now live in Brooklyn. That’s the reality. There’s a class of people who are going to the opera. And there’s another class of folks who will go to a basketball game and get a cup of beer.”
To be clear, it's unlikely that any avant-garde event at the arena would go much beyond, say, 5,000 seats. For the record, there's no such thing as an "18,000-seat opera house." Most are under 3,000 seats. The Metropolitan Opera House has 3,800 seats plus 195 standing room places, for a total capacity of 3,995.

The press release
Barclays Center Forms Programming Alliance with BAM: BAM to Identify Unique and Large-Scale Global Shows for the Barclays Center

June 30, 2011

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J.—The Barclays Center of Brooklyn has formed a strategic programming alliance with the famed Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM), the largest performing arts center in the borough, in which BAM will serve as artistic consultants to identify unique shows from throughout the world for the Barclays Center.

BAM will recommend several artistic event options for the Barclays Center, such as distinctive, large-scale music, dance, and theater productions – all to make premieres in New York -- and will facilitate communication between the arena and the artistic companies.

Set to open on September 28, 2012, the Barclays Center will be located two blocks from BAM, creating one of the most vibrant and unique cultural districts in the U.S.

“We are excited to differentiate the Barclays Center by presenting programming unique to any major sports and entertainment venue in the country,” said Bruce Ratner, Chairman and CEO of Forest City Ratner Companies, the developer of the Barclays Center. “I have had a long association with BAM and recognize its extraordinary knowledge of the global arts scene. We are tapping into its resources to identify spectacular and interesting events that are appropriate for a larger venue than BAM’s main theaters. Our alliance furthers our goal to offer the community with a dynamic cultural experience in the heart of Brooklyn.”

“With the construction of the Barclays Center, there will be a remarkable array of arts and entertainment venues, ranging from 250 to 18,000 seats, within a two-block radius here in Fort Greene,” said Karen Brooks Hopkins, President of BAM. “We are very pleased to contribute to the Barclays Center’s offerings by identifying spectacular large scale, artistically-driven events that have never been seen in New York City.  Through these events, BAM will have the opportunity to work on a giant canvas, and the Barclays Center will distinguish itself as a venue for unique programming well beyond the traditional arena fare.”

“This collaboration with BAM is another example of the Barclays Center becoming a global destination that will offer some of the most exciting and varied programming among entertainment and sports venues worldwide,” Barclays Center CEO Brett Yormark said. “From concerts to family shows, from college sports to boxing, and, of course, to NETS basketball, we have already confirmed more than 150 events per year and we fully expect to host more than 200 events annually. It makes great strategic sense to align with our neighbor, BAM, and continue to bring the best of everything to Brooklyn.”


  1. Dear Norman:

    I'm a Prospect Heights resident and appreciate you're reporting on Atlantic Yards. I have serious qualms with how the whole thing played out, but must you really trash every positive thing that could possibly come out of this screwed-up situation? Ok so the press release is probably puffed-up (as is every press release), but surely cooperation between the arena and BAM is good thing, no?



  2. Programming of arts events at the Barclays Center might be a good thing.

    But putting it on the front of the NYT Arts section--with Karen Brooks Hopkins' false and self-serving claims--is not.

    Nor is claiming that the arena and BAM form a new cultural district.

    Hence critical scrutiny.


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