Breaking Ground: Construction Begins on Barclays Center
March 11, 2010
BROOKLYN, N.Y.—It was a day for Brooklyn. From the black hats of Hasidim to a neo-soul rendition of the National Anthem, the borough’s diversity was on full display as 700-plus people packed into a tent at the Barclays Center construction site at the intersection of Atlantic and Fifth Aves. to witness a ceremonial groundbreaking for the future home of the Nets.
As guests milled about before the speeches started, they snacked on Brooklyn Burger sliders, washing them down with electric blue Jones Soda Berry Lemonade; the event was catered by vendors licensed to sell food at the forthcoming arena. Eventually the crowd settled into their seats, with the speakers seated on the dais: the emcee, Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz, Governor David Paterson, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Forest City Ratner Companies Chairman and CEO Bruce Ratner, Barclays PLC President Robert E. Diamond, Jr., NETS investor and cultural icon Shawn “Jay-Z” Carter as well as Brooklyn Sports & Entertainment President and CEO Brett Yormark.
Following an invocation by Reverend Dr. Herbert Daughtry, Sr., emcee Markowitz invoked wistful memories of the Brooklyn Dodgers team he rooted for as a boy before watching them leave for Los Angeles. Calling this a great day for the soul of Brooklyn, Markowitz focused on the jolt the project should offer to the local economy:
“This provides the affordable housing, union jobs and economic development Brooklyn so richly deserves,” Markowitz said. “Let me welcome the soon-to-be NBA champs!”
With projections anticipating that the Atlantic Yards will generate more than $5 billion in new tax revenues for the State and the City during the next 30 years, along with the creation of more than 17,000 union construction jobs and up to 8,000 permanent jobs when the entire project is complete, the theme of economic uplift proved a common thread through many comments – and popular among those in attendance; ovations were not uncommon.
Gov. Paterson, wielding wicked comedic timing and command of the room (“The Nets sold Dr. J, and that was one of the worst days of my life … until I became governor”), spoke of the new opportunities created for a new generation of New Yorkers. Acknowledging the at times fervent opposition to the project, he reaffirmed that through all the official avenues and processes, the opportunity for economic development couldn’t be missed.
Paterson highlighted the Community Benefits Agreement entered into by FCRC that ensures at least 30 percent of contracts and 45 percent of all construction jobs are to be held by women and minorities. The governor continued on to point out that of the more than $51 million worth of contracts already awarded for work on the site, 80 percent of the total prime contracts awarded to date have gone to M/WBE firms and 49.3 percent of the total contract dollars to M/WBE firms.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg followed, claiming that this was the largest private investment and job creation effort in the history of Brooklyn, and a great vote of confidence in “the nation’s fourth-largest city.” The Reverend Al Sharpton followed, drawing attention to the path African-Americans have traveled “from Jackie (Robinson) to Jay-Z” – that is, from breaking the color barrier to being able to own part of the team.
Sharpton gave way to the man who invested the most in making this move a reality, FCRC’s Ratner, who received a long standing ovation after being introduced. Crediting all those who helped him, Ratner walked the audience through a timeline of key moments, from bringing on Jay-Z and Yormark to Barclays buying the naming rights to Mikhail Prokhorov’s recent agreement to assume majority ownership of the franchise.
“I can’t believe I’m standing here today,” Ratner said. “Today is a great day for Brooklyn – yes!”
After a short speech by Barclays PLC President Robert E. Diamond, Jr., Jay-Z briefly recalled playing streetball in the Marcy projects while dreaming of an NBA career he’s been able to realize as a co-owner. Delia Hunley Adossa, Chairperson of the Atlantic Yards Community Benefits Agreement Executive Committee, then spoke of how the committee is looking forward to working together in the next phases of the project’s development.
The Barclays Center constitutes the first phase of several for the Atlantic Yards, which will ultimately result in the arena and 16 new buildings to be utilized for residential, office, and retail purposes. Of 6,430 anticipated housing units, 4,500 will be rental apartments and the remainder will be market rate condos. Fifty percent of the rental units – 2,250 apartments – will be for a combination of low-, moderate- and middle-income families. In addition, 10 percent of the rental units will be reserved for senior citizens.
On behalf of the Building Construction Trades Council of Greater New York, President Gary LaBarbera promised the Barclays Center would be the finest arena of its kind in the country – and thusly, the world. That left Yormark to wrap up the formal oration, and he did so by praising Ratner’s leadership while speaking highly of the area’s accessibility, one he plans to mirror organizationally.
“My goal is for us to be the most community-active team in professional sports, just like the Dodgers used to be,” Yormark said. “We will be Brooklyn’s team.”
With that, the principals donned hardhats emblazoned with the light blue Barclays Center logo, grabbed ceremonial shovels and dug. An explosion fired confetti over every available surface, and construction on the NBA’s newest arena had begun.