The tourists asking for directions in a part of Brooklyn that hasn't seen tourists in years are looking for the same thing. They want to see "Jay-Z's Place."
That's not factually correct, of course. The massive new arena at the intersection of Flatbush and Atlantic avenues isn't actually called that, and the rapper from nearby Bed-Stuy isn't really responsible for building it, though he did help out occasionally. Nevertheless, when the Barclays Center, the home of the NBA's Brooklyn Nets, opens Sept. 28, it will be Jay-Z doing the honors, with the first of eight sold-out concerts.
Though Jay-Z owns only about one-fifteenth of one percent of the Nets franchise, he has been the public face of the project to move the New Jersey team to its new home. ("He is it," Brooklyn Nets minority owner and Barclays Center developer Bruce Ratner told The New York Times last month. "He is us. He is how people are going to see that place.") His influence is seen on the team, with its street-savvy black-and-white uniforms, as well as the arena, which will feature an outpost of Jay's 40/40 Club sports bar and a Rocawear store that carries his fashion line.
The unusual arrangement highlights Jay-Z's unique standing in the worlds of business and music and how his way of sharing his success has only led to more of it.
"We did it again, Brooklyn!" Jay said, before offering a shoutout to his mentor, the late rapper The Notorious B.I.G., at the groundbreaking ceremony for the arena in 2010, alongside dignitaries including Ratner, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Brooklyn Borough president Marty Markowitz.
"What I stand here and represent is hope for Brooklyn, New York City," Jay said. "I'm a son of Brooklyn. . . . I think about growing up in Brooklyn -- in Marcy Projects, shooting jump shots and making it to the NBA -- and now stand here as an owner of a team coming back to Brooklyn and the pride in bringing that dream so much closer for people from Marcy and Tompkins, from Fort Greene and Lefferts Gardens. It brings me so much pride that I'm getting a little nervous about it, but I'm very happy, I'm very excited on this day."
That the 42-year-old Jay-Z can swing this kind of project while still in the prime of his career -- yes, he did do that retirement thing, but no one really expected it to last -- makes the feat even more impressive. In the current state of the music industry, selling out an arena one night is hard enough, doing it eight times in the same place is practically unheard of, especially without a major new album to promote or a massive publicity blitz.
Gary Bongiovanni, editor in chief of concert industry trade magazine Pollstar, says Jay-Z's Barclays Center run is the longest homestand in any big American arena this year.
"It's highly unusual for anyone to do that -- that's the equivalent of a couple of stadium shows," he says. "There's very few who can do anywhere near that level of business and then it's usually only in certain areas of the country. Jay-Z's on his home turf there, and there's also the opening-night frenzy of a new building, as well as the expectation of some surprises."
Will there be surprises? Will wife Beyonce make an appearance? Or The Throne partner Kanye West? It's anyone's guess. Jay-Z hasn't discussed plans for the Barclays Center shows and hasn't released a solo album since 2009. He has said there could be a follow-up album to "Watch the Throne," his collaboration with West, released this year, though that remains unclear.
One special guest can be confirmed, though. Borough president Markowitz says he plans to be at opening night, though he says he stopped keeping up with popular music around the time of Hall and Oates' heyday.
For a lifelong Brooklyn resident like Markowitz, the arrival of the borough's first major league sports team since the Brooklyn Dodgers is cause for lengthy celebration. "It will bring us respect that's overdue," he says. "It puts Brooklyn on the national map and gives us a sense of pride. It will bring people together in that way that music and religion and family and sports can -- really bring us together in a common goal to cheer for the team."
Markowitz says it's OK with him if people keep calling Barclays Center "Jay-Z's Place," though he thinks that once the Nets start playing there, people will begin referring to it as "The Nets Arena." And while Markowitz credits Ratner and his Forest City Enterprises more for the arrival of the Nets and the entire Atlantic Yards project, he says, "Jay-Z definitely helped."
"He's a great success," Markowitz says. "He's part of a good triumph here in Brooklyn and a great addition to life in this borough."
WHEN | WHERE: 8 p.m. Sept. 28, Barclays Center, 620 Atlantic Ave., Brooklyn, above the Atlantic Terminal/Barclays Center stop on the LIRR. (Also Sept. 29-Oct. 1 and Oct. 3-6.)
Babs to Bieber: More Barclays acts
Jay-Z may be christening Barclays Center Friday, but he is far from the only star the arena has landed for one of the most ambitious musical lineups for a venue in years.
Here's a look at who else is on deck (not even including the rumored 50th-anniversary shows by the Rolling Stones):
BARBRA STREISAND (Oct. 11 and 13) -- The Brooklyn native's first official shows in her home borough.
SENSATION (Oct. 26-27) -- The first American event from the massive European EDM festival promoters.
SMASHING PUMPKINS (Oct. 31) -- Could there be a more fitting band for Halloween?
JUSTIN BIEBER (Nov. 12) -- The Bieb's first of several area appearances promoting his "Believe" album will be at Barclays, a must-see for impatient Beliebers.
THE WHO (Nov. 14) -- The first of The Who's area shows, featuring their rock opera, "Quadrophenia," will be at the Brooklyn arena.
GREEN DAY (Jan. 16) -- The only area stop on the first leg of the band's "Uno! Dos! Tre!" tour, which will focus on music from its upcoming trio of albums.
RIHANNA (May 4) -- Currently, the only area stop on the "Rihanna Diamonds World Tour," though it's so far in advance, that might change. We don't even know if she'll release an album before then.