Jay-Z to open Barclays Center As New York welcomes its new world-class arena.
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.
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.
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."
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.
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.
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?'"
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.
Saadeh stresses that the Barclays Center isn't aligned with any specific promoter, and all programming runs through his office.
"We're a completely open building," Saadeh says. "I work with every single promoter out there, from Live Nation to AEG to Bowery Presents to Metropolitan, all of which are well-known in New York City. But there are a ton of these multicultural independent promoters that do a great job at their own venues in some cases, but also do shows at other facilities around the tri-state area."
AEG's facilities division is onboard to help open the building and manage operations.
"AEG has done a fantastic job for us operationally, and on the live side we want to do AEG shows," Saadeh says. "They've been great at bringing in shows. But Live Nation has also been great, and Bowery has been great-they've all been active with us. That's what I love about being an open building: We can have success with everybody."
Promoters see an opportunity. "We are thrilled with the introduction of the new venue in the market," says Mark Campana, co-president of North American concerts for Live Nation, which will open the building with Jay-Z.
"New York is an enormous market, and even with the number of arenas in the market, believe it or not, [open dates] can still be a problem," he adds. "They have spared no expense on the building, and we knew we needed to be a part of it. We entered into negotiations with the Barclays Center more than two years ago, and signed a booking deal for the building over a year ago. We know the place is going to be a smash."
Likewise, AEG Live, with a busy New York office, plans on being active in Brooklyn. "The lack of competition in the New York market has, over the years, turned Madison Square Garden into an 800-pound gorilla that artists and promoters felt compelled to play, even though the costs have been exorbitant," AEG Live CEO Randy Phillips says. "With the opening of the magnificent Barclays Center, we now have a clear choice where the consumer experience has been of paramount concern and the costs to a tour are sustainable."
Phillips agrees that Brooklyn can be a play on its own. "The venues in New Jersey were never a substitute for a New York City play." The area around the Barclays Center "has gone through major renewal, has become a destination location for Manhattanites and is very accessible to the other boroughs," he adds.
"When the refurbished Garden opens, with its great history," Phillips says, "the touring industry will have two great choices and, finally, real competition in America's No. 1 market."
The Barclays Center is also willing to promote in-house, as it will with the Streisand show.
"We will look at every situation as an independent situation," Saadeh says. "We have and we will take a risk, but that's not our long-term strategy. Our long-term strategy is to work with our partners and to take calculated risks when the time calls for us on certain projects."
For some artists coming to Brooklyn, like Bocelli and Streisand, the Barclays Center is the only New York venue they'll play this fall. Other acts will play both the Garden and Barclays, with Bieber adding a third show, at the Izod Center in East Rutherford, N.J., to his route, and Rush playing Barclays and the Prudential Center. The Who, meanwhile, will play Barclays, the Garden, the Prudential Center and the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Uniondale, N.Y.
For agents, having the new arena in the mix is welcome. "Barclays Center will give the New York area another option in terms of availability and competitive building costs," says veteran agent Dennis Arfa, president of Artist Group International, which booked Rush into the Barclays.
When Billboard visited Saadeh in July, he had 183 committed ticketed events, and by August that number had climbed to 200. In addition to anchor tenant the Nets, the arena will host a lot of hoops, starting with Kentucky vs. Maryland in the Barclays Center Classic.
There will be boxing, too, through an association with Oscar de la Hoya's Golden Boy Productions, and the family shows will be presented in association with Feld Productions.
The strength of the talent and the curiosity factor alone will drive people to the Barclays Center in its first year, but the goal is to extend that fan traffic well into the future.
"We want the experience at the Barclays Center to be first-class from front of house to back," Saadeh says. "Front of house, we're all going to go through 'Disney' training, and we'll deal with the customers so that they really feel welcome and want to come back."
Saadeh says that philosophy extends to back-of-house. "Part of my strategy is to make sure that when promoters, agents, managers and artists come to the Barclays Center, they're going to feel the same way as the patrons," he says. "They enjoy their experience, they feel welcome, they feel like they're at home that night, with good catering and a staff that's welcoming. So when they come back the second time it's because they want to come back, not because it's New York, or due to the routing, or whatever."
For Yormark, he's not overly concerned with competition in Manhattan. "I wake up every morning thinking about how we can be the best at what we do," he says, "and I don't really think about anyone else in this market.
"We have a very special moment in time, and it's not because we're going to compete with one guy or the other," Yormark says. "It's because of being in Brooklyn, and being the first pro team back here since 1957. That is an incredible story. When you walk down Flatbush and Atlantic and you see kids wearing our jersey with 'Brooklyn' across the chest, that's when I'll know we've arrived."