As I sat in the Barclays Center on April 11 for Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz’s State of the Borough Address, I marveled at how just two years earlier it had been nothing but a hole in the ground. For all the good my former boss did for Brooklyn over the past 12 years, Barclays will certainly be one of his biggest legacies.
It is hard to believe that it has only been eight months since Barclays Center opened. The arena has become such an integral part of borough life that it seems as if it has always been here. I am a frequent visitor, thanks to the fact that I am a Nets season-ticket holder and have attended numerous concerts, including Jay-Z, Barbra Streisand and Andrea Bocelli. Barclays has become something of a second home to me.
Barclays has given Brooklynites – as well as those living on nearby Staten Island and Long Island – the chance to attend world-class sporting and entertainment events without having to travel into Manhattan. When the arena opened in September, I hailed it as “an incredible day for the Brooklyn business community.” My friends at Forest City Ratner and the Nets have done a great job promoting local businesses and being a good neighbor to them.
Indeed, after an ongoing legal tussle and the grand opening, we can now say clearly that benefits of having it in Brooklyn have been immense, far outweighing any of the so-called problems anti-arena groups sought to highlight. The traffic nightmares of Atlantic and Flatbush Avenues have never materialized. If anything, the area has gotten safer, thanks to the NYPD, and traffic flows smoothly after events.
I have encouraged visitors to stay long past the end of a show or game and spend their money in the area. New businesses have opened in the neighborhood, while existing ones – especially bars and restaurants – have seen a spike in patrons and a growth in civic pride not seen since the Dodgers played at Ebbets Field. You can’t go anywhere in Brooklyn without seeing those ubiquitous black-and-white Nets hats and jerseys.
The energy inside the arena on game days is palpable. In the coming weeks, with the team bound for the playoffs – and making a serious run at an NBA title this spring – that energy and enthusiasm will only grow. Furthermore, the excitement I experienced at a recent circus show where I saw the diversity of the borough’s children and their families all enjoying themselves right here in Brooklyn gave me such joy. What a great thing for all of us who live and work here!
But the events center is just one part of a burgeoning borough where economic development is occurring on a daily basis.
Barclays sits as an anchor of a cultural and arts community that will rival Fifth Avenue’s “Museum Mile” in Manhattan and even Broadway and Lincoln Center. The Brooklyn Academy of Music — and the addition of a new, 16,500-square-foot local branch of the Brooklyn Public Library – will forever change the neighborhood.
The skyline of Downtown Brooklyn, and nearby areas such as Fort Greene, is also quickly changing. With these changes comes the chance to make Brooklyn an even bigger and better destination and a place for families to live and work. And just a short walk up Flatbush Avenue are the Brooklyn Museum, Botanic Garden and Prospect Park.
In March, I testified before New York City’s Department of City Planning on behalf of Two Trees Management in support of a proposed South Site project that will help enhance Downtown Brooklyn’s Cultural District. I support the proposed project located at 22 Lafayette Avenue because it is one of those opportunities where a public-private partnership can transform what is currently an underused parking lot into a beautiful public plaza – a place residents and visitors can enjoy on a daily basis – along an ever-changing Flatbush Avenue.
The construction of a 32-story apartment building at that location would provide much-needed affordable housing to the area. As part of the plan, 20 percent of the estimated 300 apartment will be made affordable, with a preference given to people already living in the neighborhood. I feel that it is therefore imperative that the city allow for the use of special permits to amend the zoning map in order for this work to be done.
This project is also great for business – something that is very important to me as Chamber president and for our nearly 1,200 members. Not only will the project create a 10,000-square-foot public plaza and affordable housing units, but it will also be a boom for mom-and-pop businesses and other stores in the area. It will also help attract new businesses to the neighborhood and grow an area that is already one of the hottest in the New York. During construction, an overall goal has been set where 32 percent participation by Minority/Women-owned businesses and 20 percent local businesses would be involved.
The project also calls for the construction of three new theaters, operated by BAM, and the creation of a rehearsal space for local arts groups. That will go a long way in helping the next generation of creative people who call the borough home live out their dreams, fostering creativity and making Brooklyn a focal points for arts and culture. And most importantly, this will keep this talent in Brooklyn! Maybe someday I’ll even be able to see some of those same artists at the Barclays Center.
Carlo A. Scissura is the President & CEO of the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce. To join the Chamber, call 718-875-1000 or visit www.ibrooklyn.com