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Justin Bieber, Jay Z, and the Nets: Why the Barclays Center is a Good Idea for Brooklyn

On September 28, three and a half weeks from today, Jay-Z will open the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, and I will have basketball, concerts (Justin Bieber! Barbra Streisand!), hockey, Disney on Ice, and the circus eight blocks from my apartment in Boerum Hill. 

Not to worry, I will still have antique shops and artisan ice cream. Jay-Z’s sold out opening concert will mark a major milestone in the controversial Atlantic Yards project and will usher in a period in which we can begin to answer the question: Will the Barclays Center be good for Brooklyn?

For longtime Brooklyn residents, the answer to this question is complicated. They have watched the demographics of their neighborhoods change, rents rise, and long-loved businesses close. I moved to Brooklyn almost two years ago, eight months after Forest City Ratner broke ground on the project in March 2010. 

For me, the arena has been a forgone conclusion and the answer is simple: Yes, Barclays Center will be good for Brooklyn. It will mean new businesses to shop in, new restaurants to eat at, and more events close to home. As my roommate put it, “It will be easier to catch a cab.” Most crucially, Barclays Center means the arrival of the Nets, the first Brooklyn-based major sports team since The Dodgers left in 1957, and an opportunity for all of the diverse groups in Brooklyn to share a single identity: That of hometown fans.

The controversy surrounding the opening of Barclays Center, stems from the eight-year battle residents have been fighting since 2003 when Bruce C. Ratner announced plans to develop Atlantic Yards, a 22 acre complex comprised of Barclays Center, 16 new buildings containing 6,430 new apartments (2,250 of which will be reserved for low-to-middle income tenants), commercial space, and eight acres of open land. Barclays Center is the only portion of the project that has been completed, and it is unclear when the rest of the project will be finished. The initial opposition centered on the state’s use of eminent domain, but a New York Court of Appeals’ decision to allow the use cleared the main obstacles to construction in 2009.

Since then, the arguments against the project have focused on quality of life. Residents worry about increased traffic and loud revelers keeping kids up on game nights. Then there were nightmare stories of Park Slope residents finding rats in their cars, a side effect of the massive construction. Last Wednesday, the State Liquor Authority made the decision to allow specific arena bars to stay open until 1 a.m., after events finish, raising new concerns about neighborhood safety following games. These are all valid concerns and I confess that I am not looking forward to pushing through throngs of rowdy sports fans. But these are also manageable issues that will mostly affect the group of residents living within in few blocks of the arena, and are far outweighed by the potential benefits to the borough.

First, growth. With so many areas in the country struggling, we should be thrilled that Brooklyn is developing. True, the Atlantic Yards project has forced residents and business owners out. It has also made some of them – not all - quite wealthy. Daniel Goldstein, the last resident to leave the area, did so for $3 million dollars, and both residential and business property owners in the area are hoping for big increases in property value. The arena has 19,000 seats, which will all be filled by hungry people. 

Barclays itself will feature Brooklyn-based vendors and crowds of people should be great for restaurants in the area. My favorite restaurant in the neighborhood, Rucola, opened last year and is now packed almost every night with a mixture of locals from the surrounding apartments and visitors from the city. After September 28, I may have to be a little more strategic about getting my roast chicken, but that is a good thing. I hope it is crowded.

Those 19,000 seats will also be filled with people new to Brooklyn. I was born and bred in Manhattan and can’t remember ever visiting Brooklyn until I started looking for apartments in 2010. Things have changed. My parents have come to Brooklyn without me on several occasions. But, as most Brooklyn residents will know, it is still harder than it should be to get people to come across the bridge for dinner, or an event on a weekday. I hope the arena further normalizes the easy ride to our borough (and that more people using the subway lines will make for reliable service on weekends).

And, we are getting a basketball team! As anyone who has spent any time in Boston can attest to, sports teams are great for bringing together diverse groups of people. While certain areas of Brooklyn have become less spontaneous than some might desire (ahem Williamsburg, Park Slope), I went out to Brighton Beach this summer and felt like I had found an entirely new Brooklyn. I hope the chic, black and white Nets logos start appearing all over the borough. I hope I am invited to fun Nets parties. I hope we beat the Knicks.

All of this said, the opening of the arena is a good chance to pause and consider the impact that fast, cultural changes have on a neighborhood and its residents. Even if all of my hopes for the arena come true, the development of the Atlantic Yards project does mean that longtime residents were displaced, and longtime businesses shut down. It is worth considering, and remembering at what cost our arena was built.

A year from now we will have a much better idea about the immediate impact of the center on the neighborhood … I reserve the right to change my mind if the peaceful shady streets I love are thronged by drunken masses. For now, it is a good time to live in Brooklyn. The Barclays Center is about to open, Brooklyn has a sports team for the first time in 55 years, and I have until October 15 to become a basketball fan. 

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