Stephen Nessen, Reporter, WNYC News
Stephen Nessen reports for the WNYC Newsroom and can often be heard live on Morning Edition.
An epic exodus, it wasn't.
Throngs of people descended on Downtown Brooklyn for opening night of the Barclays Center on Friday – but for the most part, by late evening, the choking traffic and transit snarls that some feared never came to fruition.
But after the first sold-out concert at the new arena, the intersection of Atlantic and Flatbush Avenues looked a lot more like Midtown Manhattan than it did a few weeks ago.
As patrons left Jay-Z's concert and dispersed into the streets Friday, hundreds lingered for at least an hour after the last song ended. They gathered outside the 19,000-seat arena in small groups, talking and laughing.
Business was so brisk for a nearby hotdog vendor, it looked more like a lunchtime line than one you'd find in Prospect Heights after midnight. Many concert-goers headed to Sugarcane or other crowded bars along Flatbush Avenue.
Traffic thickened, but moved along with no major backups. Officers directed the flow of vehicles at all key intersections surrounding the arena, easing congestion and assisting pedestrians. Horns blared as a street sweeping vehicle crawled down Flatbush Avenue, cleaning the street despite the late hour.
Officials from the Prospect Heights Neighborhood Development Council surveyed the area throughout the concert, looking for problems spots. The group said it will continue to look for trouble areas related to the Barclays Center.
"Jay-Z concerts attract a lot of young people, but what happens when you have a Barbara Streisand concert," said Danae Oratowski, Chairperson of the Prospect Heights Neighborhood Development Council.
Oratowski said as the months go on, more people will drive to Barclays Center, and that will clog local street and take up residential parking spots.
There was a “Gridlock Alert,” for the area issued by traffic engineer Sam Schwartz, who also devised the traffic pattern for the area, and encouraged concert-goers to use mass transit if possible.
In the four hours before the show, the Atlantic Ave-Barclays Center Station saw turnstile exits increase by 6,754 people -- roughly one-third the Barclays Center capacity -- compared to the average of previous Fridays this September, according to a WNYC analysis of MTA data.
The MTA had additional trains at that station and extra LIRR trains after the show, the first of eight sold-out Jay-Z concerts.
About an hour before doors opened, several hundred people milled around the plaza at the intersection of Flatbush and Atlantic avenues. Some for the show, and others to scope out the sleek new arena.
“It’s amazing,” Norbert Charles, 59, from St. Lucia said. He didn’t have tickets and was only in Brooklyn for a short stay. “I want to tell my friends I was here.”
Others crowded around the black carpet leading to the VIP area hoping to catch a glimpse of Jay-Z, or another celebrity.
“This is the highlight of my life,” said Ashley Nembreno, 19, from Sunset Park.
The 675,000-square-foot Barclays Center, home to the Brooklyn Nets, cost about $1 billion to build and is the most expensive stadium in the country.
Residents of the surrounding neighborhoods of Park Slope, Fort Greene and Prospect Heights have expressed concerns about late night drinking after the arena closes at 1 a.m.
Dozens of protesters also showed up opening night, armed with signs that read: “99 Percent Problems, and this Arena is 1 Percent,” a play off of Jay-Z’s song “99 Problems,” and one with a picture of the arena and the caption: “This is not affordable housing.”
“They didn’t fulfill their promise,” said Andreen Smith, 46, from East New York, who came down to check out the scene with her young son. “The job they promised -- we didn’t get the jobs,”
Smith said she’s been jobless for three years.
Otto Yamaoto, 53, a nurse from Queens came down to voice his discontent, waving a signed that read: “R.I.P. Promised : Affordable Housing & Union Scale Jobs.”
“New York should be affordable to the people who live here, not the billionaires who rake in the money here,” he said. “I don’t want to see the character of the city going the way of other cities around the country.”
The second phase of the $4.9 billion Atlantic Yards Project includes11 more buildings. Forest City Ratner, the head developer of the project, has promised to break ground on the first residential tower before the end of the year.
The project has divided the community and many have criticized the 22-acre project for failing to deliver promised jobs and housing.
After Jay-Z’s eight sold-out shows, the Harlem Globetrotters will visit the borough, followed by a homecoming from Brooklyn-born Barbra Streisand.
The Nets will be Brooklyn’s first big league sports team since the Dodgers left in 1957. The Net’s first pre-season game is on October 15.