At the site where the long-demonized Walter O'Malley once proposed a baseball stadium to keep the Dodgers in Brooklyn, a conga line of shakers and movers Thursday staged a symbolic groundbreaking ceremony for a proposed 18,000-seat arena designed to bring the Nets to the borough's Atlantic Yards site, possibly by 2012.
Elaborate speeches delivered by dignitaries from Gov. David A. Paterson to the rap artist and Nets part-owner Shawn Carter, aka Jay-Z, cited the project as an engine for job creation and civic renaissance. As an anchor to housing and retail development, the arena already is six years along in its planning and legal wrangles, and its brain child, developer Bruce Ratner, said that "nothing would be complete without lawyers, lawyers, lawyers. One hundred fifty of them. There were 34 lawsuits, with 34 wins and no losses."
Still, about 100 protesters, claiming that "this is the day they'll destroy Brooklyn," demonstrated outside the large temporary tent filled with about 1,000 supporters of the construction. Work commenced in late 2007 and is meant to eventually include 11 residential buildings, but this marked what officials called the next major phase in the arena construction.
Master of ceremonies Marty Markowitz, the Brooklyn borough president, briefly did mention the whistle-blowing and chanting opponents by saying they were "obviously disgruntled Knicks fans." But Markowitz was joined by civil rights advocate Al Sharpton, who was among speakers backing Ratner's vision of economic and cultural renewal as a benefit to all citizens.
"You can't have a baby without labor pains," Sharpton said. "But, let the baby be born."
Nets chief executive Brent Yormark said the team was destined to become "a part of the fabric of the community as the Dodgers had been" before they left for Los Angeles in 1957. Yormark promised 2,000 tickets, at $15 apiece, would be available for every Nets game in the arena, which acquired the global financial giant Barclays as a naming sponsor in early 2007.
The Nets recently announced a two-year deal to move from the Meadowlands to Newark while the Barclays Center is completed.
The roster of speakers repeatedly referred to the arena as a spark for Brooklyn's ongoing revival, including an invocation by the Rev. Herbert Daughtry, who cited the "rodent-infested, garbage-strewn" state of the borough as a reason for Ratner's plan.