Netting The Nets Would Re-Make Brooklyn's Downtown

Developer Bruce Ratner unveiled designs yesterday for a possible new home for the New Jersey Nets in Brooklyn. Ratner is bidding for the basketball team, and the ambitious development project he's proposed for their home would re-make the Brooklyn kyline. WNYC Amy Eddings has more.

For more pictures of the development, click here.

Developer Bruce Ratner unveiled designs yesterday for a possible new home for the New Jersey Nets in Brooklyn. Ratner is bidding for the basketball team, and the ambitious development project he’s proposed for their home would re-make the Brooklyn skyline. WNYC’s Amy Eddings has more.

The unveiling of the plan gave the public their first glimpse of what an arena would look like, placed near the busy junction of Flatbush and Atlantic Avenues. The room at Brooklyn Borough Hall was packed. There was a model of the proposed streetscape, made of plain wooden blocks, and a balsa wood model of an oval arena, with transparent walls. Visitors ate pastries from Junior’s Restaurant, and scooped up t-shirts and canvas bags with “B-Ball” printed on them. If Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz could’ve provided a drum roll to introduce Bruce Ratner, he probably would have.

Markowitz: Bruce, I don’t know what to say to you, I just don’t know what to say. You don’t know what this little boy – at 12 years old, crying like a baby – I lived a few blocks from Ebbets Field – like a baby! And those tears of joy are swelling up in me. I just can’t wait. Ladies and gentlemen, Bruce Ratner!

Markowitz talked as though the project was a done deal, but it’s not. The whole endeavor hinges upon Bruce Ratner acquiring the team….something that does not appear to be an issue for him.

Ratner, pounding the podium: We are going to get the Nets to Brooklyn. If it’s the last thing I do!

The project would be situated near the busy Atlantic Avenue subway and Long Island Railroad hub. It would turn Atlantic Avenue into a tree-lined boulevard, and bring density and height to an area that’s primarily four-story brownstones, low-slung retail shops, and squat manufacturing buildings. Ratner says the project is guided by principles that include affordable tickets, job creation, and community enhancement.

Ratner: And probably the overall guiding principle is inclusiveness. Is making sure that we listen to everybody, and that we include everybody.

Ratner’s architect is Frank Gehry, known primarily for his wavy, steel and titanium building for the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain. He says the project is an extraordinary opportunity for an architect such as himself.

Gehry: I’ve been doing these iconic buildings, but not an opportunity like this to do a mixed project, and build a whole neighborhood, practically from scratch, and fit it into an existing fabric.

Positioned around the arena are four towers, some 45 stories tall, taller than the 1929 landmark Williamsburg Savings Bank. The towers would contain four thousand, five hundred apartments, and two-point-one million square feet of office space. In one image, Gehry’s trademark, wavy fluid design elements are evident.

Gehry: Don’t worry about these funny shapes or anything at this point. We’re just – these are just blocks, and we will make something out of it as we go!

The plan will cost two and a half billion dollars; Ratner says it will be mostly private money. Most of the buildings would cover the exposed tracks of the Long Island Railroad. But some buildigns would use a block that’s currently occupied by some businesses, and more than one hundred residents. Residents such as Jennifer Eigen.

Eigen: Oh, God, so this is so sad, you see this?

She looks at a diagram of the arena with neighbors.

Eigen: So, my home is like, right there, in Section G or something. (They laugh.) Oh my God….

While Mayor Bloomberg says any landowner would be compensated and re-located, Eigen says that doesn’t make her feel better.

Eigen: It’s not all about me and my building, it’s about this community, and I moved there because it’s a residential community, not because there’s a basketball stadium there.

Eigen and about five others were not able to get inside to attend the unveiling. They stood outside Brooklyn Borough Hall, holding placards denouncing the arena. Although Ratner spoke of inclusiveness, Naomi Schegloff thinks he should’ve included the community long before now.

Schegloff: When you make a plan, and then you bring in the community? That’s tokenistic. That’s being able to pat the community on the head and say, ‘You’ve been involved.’ If you genuinely want to involve the commuinity, the community is involved from the beginning.

Developer Bruce Ratner currently has bid the highest amount for the Nets: $275 million dollars. He says he’s confident he’ll seal the deal and bring the team to Brooklyn in the next two months. But George Zoffinger, head of the Sports and Exposition Authority of New Jersey and the Nets’ current landlord, thinks redevelopment plans for the Meadowlands will make any new owner think twice about leaving. Zoffinger calls Ratner’s Brooklyn arena “all hat and no cattle.” For WNYC, I’m Amy Eddings.