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Public amenity or business deal? How odd silence about arena's Resorts World Casino NYC Plaza bolsters "Brooklyn Behemoth"

Resorts World Casino NYC signage over door; click to enlarge
It's pretty hard to miss, the signage over the Barclays Center entrance announcing Resorts World Casino NYC Plaza, as I reported last September.

But the Barclays Center has been curiously reticent about this new sponsor.

Perhaps they're reticent about the taint of gambling.

But I suspect that arena operators, as well as developer Greenland Forest City Partners, seek to avoid attention to the branding of a plaza that GFCP promotes as a public amenity.

And that's part of a strategy to get state permission--after public hearings--to transfer the huge bulk of the unbuilt tower over that plaza at Flatbush and Atlantic avenues across the street to Site 5, which is today home to Modell's and P.C. Richard and already approved for a substantial 250-foot, 439,050-square-foot building.

Site 5 from southern border at Pacific Street;
Bear's Garden in foreground is not part of planned project
The combined bulk, including the potential transfer, would be some 1.55 million square feet, the biggest tower in Brooklyn, nearly as bulky as the 1066-foot-New York Times Tower in Midtown, and far bulkier than the Chrysler Building. I call it the "Brooklyn Behemoth."

It's a gambit, perhaps with the fallback to agree to a "smaller" building, given that row-house Brooklyn is literally across Pacific Street. So it's important to remember that business decisions, not planning principles, drive this deal.

("You don't want a 25-story building next to a single-family home," said the real estate industry's chief lobbyist, Steve Spinola, in 2014.)

The plaza offers crucial assistance in wrangling Barclays Center crowds, thus benefiting owners of the arena operating company. The plaza can be rented out to private patrons. And the plaza sponsorship has been sold.  So people should start saying "Resorts World Casino NYC Plaza."

Unofficial mockup of potential bulk of Site 5 based on Gehry Partners rendering before arena was redesigned in 2009.

No public notice, professed ignorance

I couldn't find a press release announcing Resorts World, which last fall apparently replaced the Daily News as the arena sponsor, though some parts of the Barclays Center web site, such as the page allowing people to rent this privately-controlled space, have not yet been updated. (See screenshot at right.)

Nor could I get answers from those who should know. And at the 10/14/15 Community Update meeting, as I reported, arena representatives were curiously close-mouthed and professed to be uninformed.

"Is Resorts the sole sponsor" of the plaza, I asked, pointing out that the Daily News signage had been diminished.

"I have no idea," responded Forest City Ratner Chief of Staff Ashley Cotton. "We can find out." (They didn't.)

Arena Community Relations Manager Terence Kelly said these were "big operations" and he was "not well informed enough to answer that." He suggested sending a query to arena public relations. manager Barry Baum (who'd already ignored my question).

The long game

I suspect that, however much Resorts World sought the signage and public impact of sponsorship, the Barclays Center made an internal decision or agreement to not call attention to this sponsor, perhaps because of the gambling, but likely for larger business reasons.

Site 5 from Fourth and Atlantic Avenues
At that point, Forest City Ratner was the majority owner of the arena holding company. It then sold that majority--as well as the rest of its share in the Brooklyn Nets--to Mikhail Prokhorov's Onexim, which consolidated full control of both arena and team.

Then, with Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park majority owner Greenland Holdings, the joint venture Greenland Forest City Partners proceeded to float the highly questionable plan to get permission to transfer the bulk from B1, over the arena/plaza, to Site 5.

Cotton at the 3/15/16 Atlantic Yards Community Development Corporation meeting cited three justifications for the shift: delivering jobs, keeping the plaza as permanent open space, and "activating" the Atlantic Avenue corridor.

While I wrote wrote most skeptically about the latter issue, I looked at the video again. Here's Cotton's quote: "Number two, a key thing we think we can accomplish with this is keeping the plaza permanent open space."

Naming the plaza

Imagine if Cotton had said "keeping the Resorts World Casino NYC Plaza permanent open space" or "keeping the [sponsor to be named later] Plaza permanent open space"?

It's not a park. It's a private amenity that has some benefit to the public. But it's far more useful to the arena as a tool to leverage public approval for, or at least obfuscation regarding, a planned tower that--tellingly--they have refused to portray in any renderings.

Perhaps only after this Site 5 project is approved--and there must be public hearings and approval by Empire State Development, a state authority controlled by the governor--will we start hearing the name "Resorts World Casino NYC Plaza."

One public mention in a press release

Interestingly enough, I recently did find exactly one Barclays Center press release , dated 10/8/15 and thus well before my question, mentioning this new sponsor.

The press release, announcing the start of the New York Islanders' season in Brooklyn, stated that arena doors would open with "live mannequins on the Barclays Center Resorts World Casino NYC Plaza."