After dropping famed architect Frank Gehry from the Nets basketball arena planned for Brooklyn, the developer of the massive mixed-use project has brought in New York-based architecture firm SHoP to assist in the design of the venue, according to a person informed of the decision.
The developer, Forest City Ratner, plans to unveil renderings of the $800 million arena later this month.
The choice seems a face-saving move for Forest City, as a substantial backlash from public officials and the press followed its decision to drop Mr. Gehry in the name of cost.
While certainly not the starchitect that is Mr. Gehry, SHoP is something of the hot local architectural firm these days—a relatively young practice that designs often iconic buildings with highly distinctive exteriors and skins. Last year the would-be developers of a new South Street Seaport tapped SHoP to design a remake of the area, and the Bloomberg administration turned to SHoP to design its new East River waterfront esplanade.
The design of the arena is expected to be a collaboration between SHoP and arena and institutional design specialists Ellerbe Becket. While Forest City declined to comment, presumably the bulk of the design and engineering work will fall to Ellerbe (SHoP has no experience building large arenas), particularly given that Forest City has acknowledged Ellerbe Becket’s involvement for months, though the developer has made no mention of SHoP.
The arena is the centerpiece of a larger $4.9 billion planned apartment tower complex known as Atlantic Yards, a project that was approved after a lengthy political fight in 2006, but has been stalled on account of lawsuits and the economic crisis. In the battle to win public opinion and assent of public officials leading up to the project’s approval, Forest City—led by its CEO Bruce Ratner—trumpeted the fact that it would be designed by Mr. Gehry, who was to design the arena and the surrounding 16 buildings. This was notable not just in that it brought a top architectural name to Brooklyn, but that iconic, high-quality architecture was going to be used for a structure that typically is left to functional design: the arena.
So when Mr. Ratner dropped Mr. Gehry—a decision announced in early June—there was understandable outrage (The Times architecture critic called it a “stunning bait-and-switch”). That anger was no doubt fueled by the simplistic functional arena renderings shown to city officials and then leaked to the press (it’s been termed an “airplane hangar”).
Unclear is the timing on SHoP’s hire (SHoP principal Gregg Pasquarelli didn’t immediately respond to an email requesting comment), and just how long the firm has been working on the project.
When Forest City does release the renderings (there were no renderings made available this summer during the public comment period on the revised plan for the arena), it will mark the public start of yet another sales campaign for Mr. Ratner. The developer must sell about $700 million in bonds to investors before the end of the year in order to qualify for tax-exempt status, lest the cost of borrowing go up by perhaps hundreds of millions of dollars.
At the same time, the state’s highest court plans to hear in mid-October a key case on the use of eminent domain for the project. While Forest City has been victorious at every opportunity thus far, a victory for opponents and affected landowners in that court would certainly doom Mr. Ratner’s years-long efforts.