Brooklyn's New Barclays Center Opens Friday: Will It Give Madison Square Garden A Run For Its Money?
Brooklyn's New Barclays Center Opens Friday: Will It Give Madison Square Garden A Run For Its Money?

The Barclays Center rises up at the junction of Flatbush and Atlantic Avenues in Brooklyn looking, in the eyes of this visitor, like it was always meant to be there.

And, with its blend of gritty, weathered steel evoking the shade of Brooklyn brownstones, and contemporary touches like its Oculus LED marquee, the new $1 billion showplace reflects its home in a way that few venues can claim.

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The arena, with a capacity of 19,000 for concerts, opens Sept. 28 with the first of eight sold-out performances by Jay-Z, who grew up in the Marcy Houses, a public housing project three miles from the arena site.

Jay-Z is one of the directors of the company operating the arena and also is a partner in the newly christened Brooklyn Nets, the NBA franchise that has relocated from the Prudential Center in New Jersey to become the anchor tenant at the Barclays Center. The star personally selected the distinctive black-and-white colors for the Nets' uniform and logo.

"I wanted to make it really classic and strong -- a throwback to Brooklyn and what we're about," Jay-Z told MTV News in July as he unveiled the logo and color scheme. "It's real gritty, and we're not about flash -- well, sometimes. Just the roots of Brooklyn as this very bold, strong, simple logo."

(The Nets' first home game on Nov. 1 against their cross-bridge rivals the New York Knicks marks the full-time return of professional, major-league sports to the borough 55 years after the Brooklyn Dodgers defected to Los Angeles.)

The Barclays Center is the first completed part of a 22-acre development near downtown Brooklyn called Atlantic Yards, which, in the years to come, is intended to include high-rise housing, offices and retail.

Barclays Center CEO Brett Yormark on the Brooklyn Brand, Jay-Z, $1 Billion Building

Bruce Ratner, chairman/CEO of the development Forest City Ratner Cos., "had the vision of bringing sports and entertainment back to Brooklyn, and building a mixed-use development at Flatbush and Atlantic for the arena and the team, which really would be the anchor of this renaissance of downtown Brooklyn," says Brett Yormark, CEO of the Brooklyn Nets and Brooklyn Sports & Entertainment, which owns and operates the Barclays Center. "It took a little longer than expected. There was a little opposition. But I give all the credit to Bruce for persevering, having the vision and sticking with that vision." (For an extended Q&A with Yormark, click here.)

Development of the arena has prevailed against its critics. Opponents objected to such issues as New York state's use of eminent domain to take private property on behalf of the developers, the large scale of the arena adjacent to residential neighborhoods and what they saw as inadequate environmental reviews by the state.

None of the opposition stopped the arena's construction -- or affected the touring industry's embrace of the Barclays Center. Even by the standards of the honeymoon period enjoyed by a new venue, the lineup of acts confirmed for the venue's opening months is remarkable. Following Jay-Z's hometown stand, Barbra Streisand will play two nights in October for her first Brooklyn performance since she graduated from the borough's Erasmus Hall High School.

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Also on the Barclays concert calendar: the King's Men gospel quartet; Rush; John Legend; Journey; the Smashing Pumpkins; a gospel celebration led by Brooklynite Hezekiah Walker; Russell Peters; Justin Bieber; the Who; Bob Dylan and Mark Knopfler; Juan Luis Guerra and Juanes; Neil Young; Andrea Bocelli; Sounds of Reggae; and Leonard Cohen.

Family shows will complement the concerts, including the Kellogg's Tour of Gymnastic Champions, Disney on Ice and the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. A faceoff between the NHL's Islanders and Devils, college basketball and the Golden Gloves boxing tournament also are on tap.

Barclays Center VP of programming Sean Saadeh is tasked with booking the arena well beyond its jam-packed honeymoon period, and the goal is 220 ticketed events in the first year of operation.

Of course, the venue is the first arena alternative to the famed Madison Square Garden within the city's five boroughs since, well, ever.

Saadeh is familiar with competitive markets -- his previous gigs were at the San Diego Sports Arena and the Jobbing.com Arena in the Phoenix market -- but this is a situation unlike any other.

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However, no one at the Barclays Center says they're worried about the Garden. Brooklyn's population of 2.5 million, according to the U.S. Census, would make it the fourth-largest city in America, if it weren't one of the city's five boroughs. It's a concert market in its own right, and could be viewed as a separate play from Manhattan, and certainly New Jersey.

Though the Barclays Center will bring a focus to the vitality of Brooklyn, the borough has become a cultural force during the past decade.

"Brooklyn itself is a brand," Saadeh says.

As the Nets' CEO, Yormark has in many ways steered the ship, guiding the transition of the team and serving as ambassador for the Barclays Center and Brooklyn alike.

"I love the fact that Bruce Ratner and Brett Yormark are both very interested in creative programming," Saadeh says. "I knew this would be more than just booking the typical concerts, family shows and arena events. They wanted to be creative about bringing in unique events, [asking], 'How can we integrate the community into the programming?'"

nets (Courtesy: Shop Architects)

With that in mind, and recognizing Brooklyn's diversity, Saadeh says, "One of the first things I did was go out and identify who was one of the better -- if not the best -- multicultural programmers in New York, and aligned with them as a consultant for my department to look into multicultural booking, whether that be Latin shows, Russian shows, Asian shows -- everything that mirrors the Brooklyn community."

Saadeh is talking about Jackie Alvarez, who programmed such entertainment for the Garden and its associated venues for many years before setting out on her own at Jacqueline Alvarez Artistic Consulting.

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