Monday, August 31, 2015

Atlantic Yards, Pacific Park, and the Culture of Cheating

I offer a framework to analyze and evaluate Atlantic Yards (in August 2014 rebranded as Pacific Park Brooklyn) and the Barclays Center: Atlantic Yards, Pacific Park, and the Culture of Cheating.

Note: this post is post-dated to remain at the top of the page. Please send tips to the email address above, rather than posting a comment here.

model shown to potential immigrant investors in China in 2014,
though not shown publicly in Brooklyn.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Updating the retail picture: Flatbush Avenue and Bergen Street (and the $6 cereal bar!)

Well, Leslie Albrecht of DNAinfo did what I was unable to do, attend the Community Board 6 committee meeting on liquor licenses Monday, so she provided many details on the upcoming restaurant next to Shake Shack, in Michelin-Starred Restaurateur Opening 'Speak-easy Sushi Bar' Near Barclays:
The Japanese hospitality company... Plan Do See, Inc. operates restaurants worldwide and owns Sushi Azabu, the Greenwich Street sushi den tucked below the Japanese restaurant Daruma-Ya. Customers enter through Daruma-Ya and have to ask to be seated downstairs at Azabu, which won a Michelin star in 2007.
A similar concept is in the works for the 3,700-square-foot Flatbush Avenue space, which will have a New American restaurant and bar on the ground floor and roof, and a "speak-easy sushi bar" below ground, the co-owners told Community Board 6 on Monday night.
There's no name yet, but the liquor license application got an approval vote, which is advisory but usually presages State Liquor Authority approval. Partner Peter Levin suggested that the restaurant would serve both local and arena patrons, which has been a crossover goal for the Pintchik family of landlords.

CB6's permits committee approved the new establishment's liquor license application, but the State Liquor Authority has final say on the license.

A closing on Bergen

Albrecht also reported, Bergen Street Comics Closing After 6 Years in Business, with no details yet on exactly why:
“I’m so bummed that Bergen Street Comics is closing. The ‘perfect block’ of comics, Babeland, and Gorilla coffee is over," wrote Erik Hinton on Twitter, referring to the nearby adult shop and cafe.
This is Bergen Street between Flatbush and Fifth avenues, a very curated street of small businesses, at least on the south side.

The $6 cereal bar

And, guess what, the news of a cereal bar (!) in the sneaker shop Kith got surprisingly big play in the New York Times food section, with photo, To Munch: Cereal With Toppings From a Clothing Retailer:
New York has its first dedicated cereal bar. A small white-tiled alcove just inside the renovated Kith clothing and sneaker store in Brooklyn has 24 brand-name cold cereal varieties, with toppings. The cereals come packaged in single-serving Mylar bags that fit into small shoe boxes, from which the cereal can be eaten. The boxes are designed by sports figures — Andre Agassi has done the first one. There is no salad-bar-style display because the owner Ronnie Fieg does not like food out in the open. Milk, coffee and cereal-flavored soft-serve are also sold. Mr. Fieg says he has been obsessed with cereals since he was a teenager, mainly because he was not allowed to have sweet ones. Before the store opens, there is an express window to the street for cereal: Cereals from $6 with milk, ice cream from $5.50, Kith Treats, 233 Flatbush Avenue (Bergen Street), Prospect Heights, Brooklyn, 347-889-6114, kithnyc.com.
I get that they have to charge more for convenience and packaging, but I'll be curious to see how many people want to pay $6 for cereal. 

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Wrestling, and its amped subculture, comes to the Barclays Center

Y'know, when I stopped by the Barclays Center plaza on Sunday around 6 pm the wrestling fans milling about for SummerSlam, many dressed in wrestling t-shirts, some with wrestling belts, and a few with masks, seemed a little... rowdy.

They were chanting the names of wrestlers at each other: "Rod-dy Pi-per" was one I remembered.

Reports from other nights suggest similar boisterous gatherings--impossible, as I've written, if the original Urban Room were the gathering place, rather than the outdoor, more fluid plaza.

One resident told me that some of fans walking around the neighborhood were similarly amped, a few of them aggressively so. (The masks were disconcerting.) That's the flip side, apparently, of a very engaged fandom, as described below in the Observer piece.

Apparently, the bars on Fifth Avenue got a lot of business.
Inside, on Sunday, it was reported that "[t]here were more than a dozen instances of fans being escorted out of WWESummerSlam at the Barclays Center last night over bad behavior due to being intoxicated, according to PWInsider." (No one linked to the original source.)

The Monday night event

As Vinnie Mancuso reported for the Observer, in Slam Culture: What I Learned From Attending ‘WWE Raw’ at the Barclays Center:
Last night inside Brooklyn’s Barclays Center, I saw a 250-pound physical human specimen assault former Daily Show host Jon Stewart. I also saw a grown man make a seven-year-old girl cry. I also saw a (different) grown man take a shit in a urinal. 
Only one of those things was part of the show.
 And he was reporting on the third night of the three-day event, Monday Night Raw, which was sold out:
Here’s the most important lesson I learned in my three and a half hours of non-stop Raw: The action inside the ring, which despite its reputation is no different from live theater, is second nature to the fascinating subculture that flocks to stadium after stadium to watch it. And if you don’t think that subculture is a large one, your commute obviously didn’t take you along Atlantic Ave past Barclays, where the plaza outside the arena was filled to capacity before the doors opened. Continue down 5th Ave, and from every open air bar you would hear chants you wouldn’t quite understand unless you knew the names of pro wrestlers dating back as far as the 1980s.

That’s the surprising part of all this. You would expect the crowd to be crass (it was) and you anticipate it being on the juvenile side (it was), but nothing I’ve ever attended beat this in pure anticipation..... It reaches a point where at one point during the show the entire audience uses their phones to simulate a sky full of fireflies, and it’s one of the coolest things you have ever seen, and you forget for one second that you’re a fucking culture snob and smile to yourself like an idiot.

Of course, you take this good with the bad.
Saturday's event

The Sportster reported on Saturday's event, in Top 10 Ways NXT Takeover: Brooklyn Was Better Than SummerSlam:
Just how hyped was the crowd leading up to NXT Takeover: Brooklyn? Hundreds of people were lined up outside of the Barclays Center three hours before the doors opened for an event that was not general admission. Even before Triple H began NXT Takeover with a promo inside of the ring, the crowd inside of the Barclays Center was chanting for beloved wrestlers and ready to pop upon hearing the theme songs associated with their favorite acts. That NXT crowd remained energetic and loud past 11:00 pm local time and up through the conclusion of the show, and fans continued to sing the praises of the WWE performers as they exited the arena.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Safety improvements "near" the Barclays Center, and the need for more; enforcement and tolls help, but what about Atlantic Yards?

Officials Unveil Pedestrian Safety Improvements Near Barclays Center, reported CBSNewYork yesterday. Actually, it's not so near the Barclays Center and Streetsblog more precisely reported it as Atlantic and Washington Gets Fixes, Now What About the Rest of Atlantic?

As Streetsblog reported:
The multi-leg intersection of Atlantic Avenue, Washington Avenue, and Underhill Avenue has received its second round of street safety improvements in four years. Adding to a 2011 project that expanded pedestrian space, this latest set of changes includes new turn restrictions, crosswalks, and larger median islands [PDF]. Advocates welcomed the changes, but want DOT to think bigger when it comes to overhauling Atlantic Avenue, one of the city’s most dangerous arterial streets.
There are continuing problems, indeed, around the Atlantic Avenue and Flatbush Avenue intersection actually near the Barclays Center.

As DNAinfo reported 7/14/15, there were more than 150 car crashes occurred in the immediate area around the Barclays Center from Jan. 1-July 7, according to the NYPD. Atlantic and Fourth avenues and Atlantic and Flatbush avenues each had 36 crashes, while Flatbush and Fourth, where a bicyclist had been recently killed, had 23 accidents.

The article did not drill down into causes and fixes.

On Fox5, Gridlock Sam

That DNAinfo article inspired as shown in this Fox 5 report, produced in late July--and taped from the TV by Wayne Bailey, a Prospect Heights resident, Community Board 8 member, and Atlantic Yards Watch contributor who appeared in the segment.

"You can come here at any morning and you'll see people blocking the crosswalks, and pedestrians have to walk into the traffic," Bailey says in the segment. Fox5 quotes the Department of Transportation as "aggressively redesigning the area," with significant drops in injuries and collisions.



One issue Bailey points out is the "toll-shopping" of truck drivers aiming to avoid paying to cross the river, which draws traffic through Brooklyn.

Oddly enough, the Fox5 report does not mentioned is any impact from arena operations, which draw periodic traffic surges, or Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park construction, which has narrowed Atlantic Avenue next to the arena, as well as Dean Street, Carlton Avenue, and Sixth Avenue--as well as the impact of trucks using local streets on their way to a truck route.

In fact, after the discussion of "toll-shopping," the segment went to the studio, where an anchor interviewed "transportation expert" "Gridlock Sam" Schwartz, without mentioning that his firm is a consultant to Forest City Ratner and the Barclays Center on their transportation plans.

"This is a complex problem, a problem created 150 years ago, when you had separate towns in Brooklyn, with different grid systems," Schwartz says. Sure, but it's a little more than that

Asked what's needed, Schwartz added that, once the tolls came off the bridges, truckers drive through Downtown Brooklyn to cross the free bridges rather than to pay to take tunnels or the Verrazano Bridge. He also cited the usefulness of red light cameras to slow traffic. He made no mention of the enormous project being constructed near that intersection.

Doomed on Dean Street: three houses wait for wrecking ball

These three houses on Dean Street east of Sixth Avenue, condemned by the state via eminent domain and one eviction--compensation in case of one building is finalized, for the other two unresolved, as far as I know--are scheduled to be demolished for a 27-story, market-rate building (plus, likely, a school).

That building, B-15, will encompass a larger site stretching 100 feet wide (west) to the sidewalk at Sixth Avenue, and up to Pacific Street. Meanwhile, the houses stand marked with Xs--utility shutoff? target for wrecking ball?--and windows left open, with no worry about deterioration.

If the designation of blight regarding two of these houses was bogus, well, now blight is being achieved, unnaturally. (I took the photos Sunday. Brownstoner reported 7/28/15 on the approval of demolition permits.)

Remember, documents indicated that this 100-foot wide stretch was designated part of Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park (at least in part) for business reasons, not because of an urban planning principle. Early on, the stretch was needed for construction staging, as four towers and the arena were supposed to be built at the same time.





Monday, August 24, 2015

Coming on Flatbush: restaurant seeks liquor license next to Shake Shack; sneaker shop Kith rebooting with cereal bar

Nike store in process, via the Real Deal
The retail space between Shake Shack and True Religion Jeans on Flatbush Avenue opposite the Barclays Center, most recently a Nike pop-up shop, is set to become a restaurant, which seeks a liquor, wine, and beer license.

At tonight's meeting of the Community Board 6 Environmental Protection/ Permits & Licenses Committee, held at 6:30 at Cobble Hill Community Room, 250 Baltic Street, the agenda includes:
Presentation and review of a new on-premises liquor license application submitted to the State Liquor Authority on behalf of JP Concepts, LLC at 166 Flatbush Avenue (between Pacific Street/5th Avenue).
The rather spare license application does not indicate the name of the restaurant, but says there will be recorded music, not live music, and an active rooftop space. The applicant is Pete Levin of JP Concepts, who also runs Professor Thom's in the East Village.

The 3,700-foot building, on the market recently for a stratospheric $250/square foot, was once supposed to be the home to the relocated Junior's restaurant, the Real Deal reported. It is among the many properties owned by the Pintchik family.

Sneaker store reboots, adds cereal bar

Via Google Maps; Atrium now closed
So the high-end sneaker store Kith at 233 Flatbush Avenue between Bergen and Dean streets, formerly Atrium + Kith, has seen Atrium (clothing store) close, and the store is rebooting. Complex reported:
Kith's Brooklyn location, the brand's original storefront, has been closed in recent times to undergo renovations. Ronnie Fieg, Kith's founder, has announced that the shop will open up at the end of the month, with a date set at August 24... Beyond that, Fieg also said that there will be a Kith Treats grand opening at the store's 233 Flatbush Ave. location.
Maybe the grand opening is tomorrow, though. TimeOut New York reported 8/13/15:
Trendy sneaker shop KITH NYC is opening its second location on August 25, right near Barclay's (233 Flatbush Ave). But this time, the store will sell much more than shoes and apparel. Soon, in addition to your fashion needs, you can also satisfy that craving for sweet, crunchy breakfast-y goodness.
At the cereal bar, called KITH EATS, customers can grab up to three servings per order, complete with specialty milk and toppings. With two-dozen cereal options, 30 different toppings and 10 types of milk at the self-serve counter, the combinations—and sugar highs—are endless.

A week later, a look at the Dean Street canyon housing #PacificParkArts mural

At Dean Street near Vanderbilt Avenue
Yesterday, just eight days after the "Green Monster" wall on Dean Street between Carlton and Vanderbilt avenues was painted with ten 40-foot murals, I returned for a second look.

First impression: that wall is still huge, creating a canyon for pedestrians, bicyclists, and vehicles.

Second impression: the drivers, of vehicles and bikes, weren't looking at the wall at all. They--especially the bicyclists--were focused on going straight ahead and not getting into any scrapes.

(So much for that chirpy tweet about being excited to bike down Dean Street and seeing the murals.)

That said, I did see a couple of pedestrians with cameras taking photos. So pedestrians--and the press--may have been the real target audience.

Looking east from Dean Street near Carlton Avenue.
The below photos all look west from Dean Street near Vanderbilt Avenue






Sunday, August 23, 2015

The WWE SummerSlam (undisclosed) takeover includes Sixth Avenue and broadcast lot

Well, according to information released earlier this week by the Barclays Center regarding this weekend's WWE SummerSlam event, yes, there was supposed to be noise-attenuated generator installed on the west side of Pacific Street and Sixth Avenue outside the Sugar Factory entrance, as shown in the photo below.

A couple of other phenomena, however, were not disclosed.

There was no mention that media trucks would be placed behind the MPT (maintenance and protection of traffic) on Sixth Avenue outside the arena. Isn't the MPT area supposed to be limited to construction?


Now was there hint that the broadcast lot on the east side of Sixth Avenue between Dean and Pacific streets would be used to assist event attendees.

According to the latest Construction Alert, issued this past Tuesday, "Broadcast lot will be shared/ utilized by both the arena and the B3 site for temporary storage of equipment."

Actually, as the brief video below from yesterday shows, it's also being used for parking--valet parking, I'm told. The big event in the three-day festival is tonight, starting at 6:30.



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Saturday, August 22, 2015

The Nets, fandom, and being "too busy" to miss the old Brooklyn (and what about the felonious Barclays?)

The nature and up-down intensity of Brooklyn Nets fandom has been the subject of much discussion, as noted 5/1/14 on NetsDaily:
In a tweet from their own account, the Nets disassociated themselves from Lenn Robbins tweet of Thursday night in which the team's in-house beat writer advised Nets fans to "set your DVD and take notes" on the Raptors home crowd, noting "this is what a playoff crowd sounds like."
Robbins later apologized, and Nets fans in a subsequent game were reportedly quite loud.

Fandom in Brooklyn?

Then again, intense fandom has not exactly penetrated Brooklyn, however much Brooklyn Nets gear pops up around (and beyond) the borough. The night of that subsequent 2014 game, I wandered up Fulton Street and Lafayette Avenue just blocks from the arena. The game was on in most bars and restaurants, but only a fraction of people were watching attentively. 

A week earlier, I was in Pittsburgh, the day of a Penguins hockey playoff game. One main strip of bars and restaurants, East Carson Street, was inundated with people wearing Penguins gear. Every bar was advertising the game.

Pittsburgh is a small city, with a deep sports history. Brooklyn is a big borough, larger than most cities, with a new team and lots more things to do. 

So the Nets are not the Dodgers, the home team of an underdog borough in an era when baseball dominated sports fandom.

But it can't matter much to team owners and arena operators: they can draw fans from not just Brooklyn but the rest of the city and the nearby suburbs. The Brooklyn fan base is not as big a deal. And Brooklyn is big enough that some fraction of the borough can suffice as fans.

That was proven again in the past season, and it looks to be proven by the New York Islanders, which is rejiggering its fan base with Brooklyn and New York City fans.

The new fan base

The emergence of the Brooklyn fan base, and the new Brooklyn was the subject of David Roth's 5/2/14 SB Nation essay, THE HOME TEAM: TWO NOT-VERY-QUIET NIGHTS AT HOME WITH AN NBA TEAM THAT'S FIGURING OUT WHAT IT IS, AND WHAT IT WILL BE. As in the past, he was skeptical about the team's branding:
It is no slight to the team to note that this feels almost incidental in Barclays Center. The game experience is antiseptic and scrupulously leveraged. Various brands wink and blink and blurt and blunder up throughout the game, presenting things or simply being them.
...This is not unique to Brooklyn, of course; it was even more oppressive during the Nets' last years in New Jersey, when the team relied on marketing gimcrackery to wring revenue out of lousy teams playing in mostly empty arenas. But that is sort of the problem.
Becoming a home team

"It takes time to feel at home," wrote Roth, who recalled how 13 years earlier he found a skeevy apartment near Fifth Avenue and Dean Street, a block from the later arena site, at a time before Brooklyn got buzz, and a time when he willingly traveled to New Jersey for Nets games. Now there's "nothing else I would have recognized."

He suggested that fandom is emerging, that the "bars empty some before tip-off, but they were never quite full to begin with." But he thought the kids going to games will grow up into something more, and "Their cheers will be what drowns out the front office's relentless false-bottomed marketing language."

Maybe, maybe not if the team keeps flipping personnel, bringing on--for a high price--aging stars, then losing them to rebuild. The team this season will be significantly different from the one two years ago.

And I'm not so sure "the former O'Connor's is now a perfectly respectable place called McMahon's Public House." I know people who loved O'Connor's who now disdain McMahon's. But there are, yes, new people.

Time and change

Roth, who I respect as an eloquent writer, then strained:
There is nothing terribly natural or good about the variously underhanded and high-handed incidences of micro- and macro-scale corruption that brought the Barclays Center into being or brought the Nets to Brooklyn. All of that was terrible, and continues to be -- the slow and predictable revelation of all the various lies told casts a long shadow on the hopeful thing rising at Flatbush and Fifth. It is all business as usual, but that is never a compliment.
But there is nothing more natural or good about the Brooklyn I lived in -- which is gone, gone, gone -- than there is about the one that's there now. The new one is different, but of course it is. I am welcome to miss or mourn the Brooklyn I knew; the people who live there now are too busy living in this new one to care, and that is as it should be.
(Emphases added)

Well, maybe there is nothing more good--if that's a subjective judgment.

More natural? Well, cities are never natural. The redlining, highway subsidies, and low-interest loans that helped create the suburbs and empty out 1960s Brooklyn, the policies that earlier enforced the Bedford-Stuyvesant ghetto, or the combinations of clearance and subsidies that created MetroTech were hardly natural.

Still, I'd submit, the various instances of "corruption" hinted by Roth were not merely "business as usual." That is too simple, and too pat. And so, I'd submit, the Brooklyn he lived in--as did many of us--has been soured by the deceptions of various parties.

The arena is ever tainted by what I call the Culture of Cheating, not legally corruption but a sequence involving deceit, misdirection, and unfair privileges.

People may be "to busy... to care" about much. That's understandable. Still, in a culture when sports fans care very much about fairness on the court (or the ice), amnesia is selective.

Today, there's even more concrete evidence about cheating: the Barclays Center is named for a felonious (as of March 2015) bank. Yet the name "Barclays Center" is pronounced without qualm of skepticism.