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Petition calls for Barclays Center spaces to be used for public school students during pandemic; questions of logistics, economics

Earlier this month, New York magazine critic Justin Davidson suggested--to some skepticism--that empty theaters, arenas, and other venues might be repurposed to help the city school system grapple with overcrowding

Yesterday, Prospect Heights activist Raul Rothblatt launched a petition, Use Barclays Center complex for DOE Students during Covid19, which has so far gotten 85 signatures:
Barclays Center pays no taxes. It is on publicly owned land. Its rich owners rely on huge public subsidies. Yet while our public school students face a massive new space crunch due to coronavirus, it sits empty.
The public has donated enough to Barclays Center—it’s time to get something back. We demand that the meeting rooms, atrium, Tidal Theater, unused restaurant spaces, practice courts, arena and concourses be used to help our children. We are not asking for thousands of children to be spread only in the arena—that is only one of the many spaces in the building.
Indeed, there are multiple spaces in the building--not just the main arena space and truncated Tidal Theater, but also the atrium and practice court.

Logistical questions

The logistics would be challenging, but, then again, everything now is an experiment. Note that the Barclays Center plans to host MTV's Video Music Awards on Aug. 30, which would presumably occupy a significant portion of the arena interior, thus complicating any schools plan.

Also, large venues are now cleared to host pro sports without fans, so it's not unlikely that the Brooklyn Nets will be playing at Barclays at some point within the next school year.

That said, it seems unlikely that the season would start, as one plan suggests, as soon as December, given that it would be soon after the end of the current split season.

Economic questions

From the petition:
Should Barclays Center get compensated? Sure, as soon as they start paying taxes. They have been getting a free ride for too long. The Empire State Development Corporation promised to give space for “local academic institutions.” It’s time they lived up to that commitment.
Not that the quote from the state regards "a venue for the Nets professional basketball team, as well as one for the City’s colleges and local academic institutions." Very few secondary school games have been played at the arena, while most college games have involved tournaments featuring big names. So that commitment has been more rhetorical than actual.

The "City's colleges" does not, in practic, mean public colleges; the local institution that's played the most games, as far as I know, is Long Island University.

As to the Barclays Center's "free ride," that's complicated. It's exempt from property taxes and gained tax-exempt financing, saving significantly on financing costs, though its workers, of course, pay income tax.

Instead of propert taxes, it makes payments in lieu of taxes, or PILOTs, to pay off construction financing. In ordinary times, that's supposed to be a good deal for the arena--though it's done far less well than originally projected.

In coronavirus times, that means the arena has debts that are not covered by revenues.

That said, the owner of the Nets and the arena operating company is a billionaire with deep pockets. And the presence of the Barclays Center, putting aside its annual bottom line, is key to the astronomical valuation of the Brooklyn Nets. So the two entities should be seen as a unit.

Bottom line: if this effort proceeds, expect the operators of Barclays to ask for some payment.

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