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Former Prokhorov deputy Pavlova: "we did look into" making Barclays "hockey-friendly"

There's an interesting anecdote on the Brooklyn Nets fan podcast, The Glue Guys, in the Irina Pavlova Exit Interview, interviewing the recently departed (after seven years) president of ONEXIM Sports and Entertainment, the holding company (owned by Mikhail Prokhorov) for the Nets, Barclays Center, and other properties.

The segment starts at about 8:26. One host asks if, in retrospect, there's anything that could have changed about the move of the Nets from New Jersey to Brooklyn.,

"I am satisfied how it's worked out, I mean, obviously, leaving basketball aside," Pavlova said. "There are a few things that we would have changed about the arena if we could. But at the point we got involved, it was already a done deal. So we couldn't go back and redo the drawings."

Remember, Forest City Ratner (led by Bruce Ratner) and parent Forest City Enterprises were the majority owners of the arena, and had already decided (in 2008) to swap Frank Gehry's larger two-sport arena (850,000 square feet) for the Ellerbe Becket (plus SHoP) basketball-focused 670,000 square foot arena, by the time Prokhorov's deal was announced in September 2009.

The arena groundbreaking was in March 2010.

Reaching out to the Islanders

"We did look into making it hockey-friendly, and we did reach out to [New York Islanders owner] Charles Wang at the time," Pavlova said. "And he wasn't interested."

That's surely because Wang was expecting Nassau County voters to approve a referendum for a new Nassau Coliseum to house the Islanders, as well as other development components. But they said no in August 2011.

Then Wang had to get creative.

By July 2012, before the 9/28/12 opening concert, a construction monitor reported that the Barclays Center would have "revised dasherboards" (the walls of the rink) to meet National Hockey League regulations, a sign--in retrospect, at least--that discussions between Barclays Center operators and Wang were ongoing.

The Islanders' move--portrayed as an ironclad 25-year lease, though with an opt-out that can be exercised after three or four years--was announced in October 2012. Now the Islanders are said to be seeking to build, with partners, a new arena next to the Belmont racetrack.

In retrospect, some irony (plus some $$$)

"I think it's kind of ironic now," Pavlova reflected. "Because it's not like we were making a forward commitment. We were just asking if there was a chance you might been interested. If he had said yes at that point, we probably would've made it more hockey-friendly. But at the point we got involved, it would have meant a construction delay and another, I think, about $50 million."

That's interesting. The arena operators/builders--remember, the state is the nominal owner, to enable tax-exempt bonds--would have had to (I speculate) adjust the seating configuration, the sight lines, and perhaps even the scoreboard, so it could be centered, rather than awkwardly skewed to one direction of the hockey rink.

Also, the money (presumably) would have enabled the builders to install steel piping to meet NHL standards for ice, rather than use the cheaper PVC piping, which has prompted so much criticism and consternation for producing choppy, inconsistently cold ice.

However, they could not have changed the overall configuration of the building. A larger building would have cost well more than $50 million, but... $50 million would have been significant. (Those revised dasherboards cost all of $155,652.)

That said, the overall cost to the arena builders/operators would have been far more than $50 million. The Nets would have had to have spent another season--or part of a season--in Newark, and the owners of the team would have had to absorb losses.

Though Prokhorov owned 80% of the team and Forest City 20%, the Nets were already losing more than Prokhorov agreed to fund, so that would have been on Forest City.

More costs to consider

Moreover, a delayed opening would have delayed revenue from high-profile concerts and sponsorships in Brooklyn. And it may have triggered some contractual givebacks from sponsors who'd been told the arena was opening in September 2012.

So the tab would have grown. $150 million? 200 million? In the long run, that might have been a reasonable expenditure, if it guaranteed solid attendance at Islanders games and attendant sponsorships.

But public companies like Forest City, at least, don't necessarily think in the long run, since they have investor expectations to meet. And Forest City had already gone out on a significant financial limb buying property for and funding the overall Atlantic Yards project. (Remember, new partner/overseer Greenland was not yet on board.)

So it's understandable, and reasonable, why the arena was not revised more to accommodate hockey. It just looks, with the vantage point of hindsight, to be a short-sighted decision.