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State justifies Barclays logo/name on arena roof, says it complies with "intent" of Design Guidelines (which never mentioned roof signage)

There's a honking big Barclays Center name and logo coming on the roof of the new Brooklyn arena, buzzing toward a Sept. 28 opening. But such rooftop signage was never officially approved, disclosed, nor opened to public comment. Nor was it ever permitted in the Design Guidelines on which the state relies.

It's a p.r. victory for Barclays, which, however hammered for its LIBOR manipulations, is implanting itself in Brooklyn, buying naming rights for the Barclays Center arena and getting its name on the adjacent subway station. (Developer Forest City Ratner actually paid for the latter.)

Empire State Development (ESD), the state agency that approved the overall Atlantic Yards project and works hand-in-glove with Forest City, took nearly two business days to provide an explanation for the signage, which was quietly disclosed Monday in a two-week construction look-ahead prepared by the developer.

The signage--including painted letters approximately 230’ x 103’--is kosher, according to ESD's Arana Hankin, because it "comprehensively complies with the intent of the [project design] guidelines that 'establish a framework for the design of the project.'”

Hankin, Director, Atlantic Yards Project, confirmed that it would look like the image released in September 2010, below, a year after the second round of project approvals. (Note that the angle merely gives a hint of the logo.

September 2010, SHoP Architects design
The justification

Hankin wrote:
The logo design comprehensively complies with the intent of the guidelines that “establish a framework for the design of the project.” The propose signage has been reviewed and the following summarizes our findings:
  • The sign is not illuminated
  • It cannot be seen from street-level
  • There is no impact on street view corridors
  • There is no impact on the transparency of the glazing for the Arena and Retail Space
Or, perhaps: if ain't prohibited, it's permitted.

Yes, rooftop signage is hardly rare in this era of fly-by coverage: check out the Staples Center in Los Angeles or the United Center in Chicago.

What the Design Guidelines said

But the Design Guidelines, approved in 2006 and not amended since, addressed facade signage only,  focusing on "the urban form of the project" and "architectural treatment and streetscape."

The "framework for the design of the project" didn't mention rooftop signage because it wasn't contemplated. The Frank Gehry-designed arena was supposed to have green space on the roof, some of it accessible to residents of the towers ringing the arena.
July 2006, Gehry Partners design

Flashback, 2003

Of course, when Atlantic Yards was announced in 2003, that green roof was supposed to be open to the public, prompting New York Times architecture critic Herbert Muschamp to rhapsodize about the running track, skating rink, and recreational areas.
December 2003, Gehry Partners design

When Barclays in 2007 bought naming rights to a green-roof arena, it was paying for a Frank Gehry model. It later renegotiated the price down; perhaps the rooftop signage was a sop for the delay and the loss of Gehry.

Hankin confirmed for me that the state isn't getting any revenue from the rooftop signage. (The arena is nominally owned by the state, for the purpose of issuing tax-exempt bonds. The state gave away arena naming rights, which were never counted as a subsidy, or in a cost-benefit analysis.)

Project revised

In 2009, after new public hearings, Empire State Development approved a revised project, with the arena decoupled from the towers, a cost-saving move for Forest City money. The green roof was gone.

"conceptual design" of the arena produced by architect Ellerbe Becket, released to the public, stated that it "does not include signage, which will conform to Design Guidelines." There was, of course, no mention of rooftop signage, in those guidelines.

June 2009, Ellerbe Becket design

Signage obscured [this section updated 8/16/12]

Forest City soon brought on SHoP to produce a new facade for the arena (and later to design the arena plaza and the first residential buildings.) At a September 2009 public information session, just before the project was officially approved, there was nothing on the roof.
Sept. 2009, SHoP design, photo by Tracy Collins
This was after a public comment period, but the public was able to comment at the board meeting of the Empire State Development Corporation, which approved the project. The omission of the signage precluded that option.

Signage emerges

In March 2010, as the arena groundbreaking approached, the ESDC was asked about a rendering in which the rooftop boasted a seemingly illuminated Barclays Center sign. Such a rendering was for promotional purposes a spokeswoman said, adding that signage "will meet the design guidelines, which we continue to review."
March 2010, SHoP rendering

The new and apparently final design of the rooftop signage (top) appeared in images of the arena plaza released in September 2010, as well a new Atlantic Yards website that debuted in February 2011.

Curiously enough, the most recent renderings of the arena, part of an orchestrated November 2011 release of images of modular construction, portrayed the roof as brown at night, with no obvious signage.
November 2011, SHoP rendering

Maybe Forest City--which didn't respond to my queries--didn't want to remind people that the arena, which developer Bruce Ratner last year said was "largely about the children and youth of Brooklyn," is also a giant billboard.


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