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A softball interview with Ratner on Bloomberg TV's "Sportfolio": success depends on location (not government assistance)

Last night, on Bloomberg TV's Sportfolio, "Bloomberg's weekly inside look at the business of sports," the first guest was Atlantic Yards developer Bruce Ratner, at whom host Rick Horrow (not a journalist but "a leading facility development advisor") beamed lavishingly and described, at the end of the interview, a "true visionary, quintessential developer."

Horrow pitched a bunch of softball questions. The first:"tell us about progress" on the arena.

"The time has come," Ratner pronounced, in tones more stentorian than usual. "The progress is going great. We're about 60% done with the arena. The last piece of steel went up last week. You can walk around inside... and it's in a great location, right in the heart of Brooklyn, the center of the world, I might add."

If it's "the center of the world," why does he live in Manhattan?

Built for basketball, but

Noting that the Barclays Center will be the first new NBA arena to open since 2008,  Horrow asked, "What'll make it state of the art as a basketball facility?"

"It's built for basketball, much like Conseco [now BankersLife Fieldhouse, in Indianapolis]," Ratner responded, not pointing out that the arena was shrunk--from 850,000 square feet to 675,000 square feet--to save money. "The sightlines are better... The other thing is the design of it: it will be highly designed architecture, with a capital A, and that's unusual for our arenas in this country."

What's the brand?

Horrow noted that the first event at the arena would be a concert by "fellow owner" Jay-Z, and asked Ratner how he'd describe the arena brand.

"It's Brooklyn, it's the architecture, it's Jay-Z, a new father, I might add, it's Nets basektball, it's everything," Ratner responded, "everything that you could imagine that you woudl want in the arena. The brand is really all the great events, plus the Nets, plus the architecture, plus the Jay-Z celebrity types, and so on.

Booking events

The Barclays Center has "been aggressive in booking events," Horrow observed, suggesting that the new facility is "going toe to toe" with Madison Square Garden. "What's the attraction for partners to sign on with that new venue?"

"This is a large city and a large region. Brooklyn alone has 2.5 million people," Ratner said, "so we really need a second arena."

That's arguably true, but one arena in the region--the Nassau Coliseum, the Meadowlands arena--will understandably lose out. And there's no reason for federal subsidies to move a team across state lines.

"Whether we're competing with Madison Square Garden isn't really what's important," Ratner said. "What's important is whether we bring great entertainment, great sports."

Actually, what's important is whether the bookings deliver profits. It's still unclear if the number of events, and sponsorship revenue, will meet expectations.

"We wondered when we were building it, whther we'd be a secondary arena, or whether we'd be our own venue. It's clear.. we're our own brand," Ratner concluded.

That's true, but there are a lot of variables we don't know, such as whether Barclays is giving event bookers a significantly better deal than other venues to lock in the events.

Recruiting advantage?

Wearing his grin, Horrow asked Ratner, "Do you see the Brooklyn brand and new facility as a recruiting advantage?

"It's a tremendous advantage," Ratner responded, though there are no results yet to speak of. "First, being in the New York general market is tremendous, whether it be media or advertising or sponsorhip or fans, or just the history of sports in this region. we're already seeing it, that there's a tremendous desire, in the NBA generally, to play in big markets and there's already a tremendous interest by players and fans alike."

The key to making it work

Horrow, in his final question, cited plans in other cities (such as Los Angeles) for new arena plus mixed-use development, and asked Ratner, "What's the key to making it work, especially in an uncertain economy?"

"The first key is obviously location," Ratner said, citing the opportunity for transportation to support residential or office development.

He somehow ignored the more important key: to get government agencies willing to sign on to a project, to revise settled deals to save the developer money, and even to support a dubious effort to raise money from immigrant investors seeking green cards.

Arena as successor to theater district?

Ratner finished with what's clearly a new rhetorical tack, "In the case of Brooklyn, interestingly enough, in that area of Brooklyn, Downtown Brooklyn, going back almost 100 years, was always an entertainment district. There were dozens of legitmate theaters right in the area... for about 30 years, it kinda lost that edge... the reason that it was, I think, was the excellent public transportation... So development has to come from something that has a reason to be there..."

Yes, there was a theater district in Downtown Brooklyn, stretching along Flatbush Avenue and Fulton Street, among others, including large houses like the Paramount (now home to LIU) and the Majestic (now home to a BAM satellite).

Does one heavily branded arena equal the latter-day equivalent of a theater district containing multiple venues?