Welcome to the grand opening of the Barlcays Center—through the Calvin Klein VIP entrance, past the American Express box office and into the Geico atrium—the sometimes home of the Brooklyn Nets. Because in truth, this is the bank’s home and everybody else are its guests. Today it is the press corps’ turn, and we have been welcomed in the grandest of style. Fresh orange juice, hot quiche and chocolate-covered strawberries abound, though none of the twee Brooklyn food that will soon be sold at the very Brooklyn concession stands.
As one reporter mentioned to another, “Remember the good ol’ days?” Would that be when Brooklyn had a team or when journalists could afford their own meals, or even a few sweet years ago, when this was still a hole in the ground, neighbor fought neighbor and the banks were booming?
Barclays and its backers are certainly aiming for a fond nostalgia at the corner of Flatbush and Atlantic. Once, stadiums were built around the sports teams they housed—the Celtics and The Garden, the Mets and Shea Stadium—and in a sense Barclays Center has been built around the Nets too. Inasmuch as the VIP entrance and lounge is built in and around the Nets locker room entrance and their goldfish bowl of a practice court, for all those without tickets to gaze in. The Nets are the spectacle here, but they take a backseat to the stadium’s namesake.
The point is only reinforced by the Nets’ unusually austere, and reportedly Jay-Z-selected, team colors, black and white. It’s a design choice that seems only to highlight the piercing electric blue of Barclays bank. A blue that is absolutely everywhere. A point that The Observer pointed out to SHoP partner Chris Sharples during a tour of the arena his firm helped design. He seemed to agree. “They certainly got their money’s worth,” the architect said of the bank. With $400 million invested over the next 20 years, one would certainly hope so.
On the grandstand, all the expected VIPs took their turns thanking one another for their own amazing achievement. The seventh-richest man in Russia, Nets owner and playboy Mikhail Prokhorov, was there, of course, to thank Jay-Z, who was not. Mayor Bloomberg came to thank New York and asked, as monotone as the building he was standing in, “Is Brooklyn in the house?” After some polite applause, he answered, almost to himself, “I thought so.” He proceed to echo comments he made just the day before on the High Line, the justification for every project today: “Great cities change, and great cities grow, and that’s always been true of New York.”
But it was Charles Ratner, the chairman of Cleveland’s own Forest City Enterprises and cousin of the man behind the Barclays Center, Bruce Ratner, who thanked Barclays most openly for being so steadfast a partner even in these difficult economic times. “Can’t say enough about Barclays bank,” he crowed. One can only imagine that it is easier to remain steadfast in troubling economic times when you’re helping to manipulate international interest rates.
Singlehandedly bringing hope back to Brooklyn, Bruce Ratner declared, “Championships will be won here!” He does know which team he bought, right?
Outside the arena, the people looked in. Some of them wearing oversize masks of Mayor Bloomberg and Marty Markowitz’s faces, others handing out leaflets asking where the union jobs they were promised were. There were two men trying to draw attention to the traffic nightmare that is predicted when stadium events and rush hour converge on Atlantic Avenue. Not a few of these protesters used to call this plot of land home.
Inside, with the press, the great men and rich men, a long ribbon was cut and two loud bangs sounded out. Trails of long paper streamers shot into the air around Geico Atrium. They were blue and white. Not to color of the Brooklyn Nets, but of Barclays bank.