New businesses are sprouting around the Barclays Center arena opening this fall in Brooklyn, hoping to attract not just sports fans but also some of the 24,000 Long Island Rail Road riders who pass through nearby Atlantic Terminal daily.
Developers are counting on the commuters as well as the crowds who come to watch the NBA's Nets and other events at the 18,000-seat arena to spend time and money at the new restaurants, bars and shops.
"For Long Islanders, it's no longer going to be get off the railroad and hop on the subway to go someplace else," said Timothy King, a managing partner at CPEX Real Estate Services, which represents many landlords in the area. "There is no question the commuters will take advantage of the arena as well as the retail and restaurants in the area," he added.
To the owners of Va beh', an Italian eatery on Dean Street that opened four months ago, the LIRR hub was part of the attraction, along with anticipated foot traffic when Barclays Center opens in September.
"It's a central location," said co-owner Qiana DiBari. "It's a nice alternative to Manhattan for people from Long Island."
Whether commuters will venture into the neighborhood depends partly on whether the area closest to the terminal exits is spruced up, said Julia Vitullo-Martin, director of the Center for Urban Innovation at the Regional Plan Association.
"The walk will make a difference," she said. "When you get off the train, what will your experience be?"
Commuters watching the once-desolate area come alive said they were open-minded.
"The area has improved in the last few years, but I have to see what the arena brings," said Ted Rozanski, 57, a lawyer who commutes to Brooklyn from Roslyn.
Moses Thomas, 51, an electrician from Deer Park, said the new restaurants offer a cheaper night out than Manhattan with fewer traffic woes.
"This is more convenient for me to get to, but it might get just as crowded when the arena opens," he said.
DiBari and other business owners said retaining a neighborhood vibe is key to making the area a premiere destination.
"Hooters came to us for retail space adjacent to the stadium. We sent them away," said Michael Pintchik, who owns dozens of buildings between Atlantic Avenue and Grand Army Plaza. "Our goal is to make the area eclectic, a place that young people want to hang out, instead of just another commercial strip."
Hooters did not return calls for comment.
Among the recent openings blocks from the arena are Uncle Barry's on Fifth Avenue, a bar that specializes in microbrews; Crèm Puff Café, a bakery and espresso joint on Sixth Avenue; and Je T'aime Shoes on Flatbush Avenue.
Two Manhattan-based restaurateurs have contracted to open up high-end places by the fall on Flatbush, Pintchik said.
Retail space at the base of the arena is still available, according to Nets spokesman Brian Moriarty. So far, an Adidas team store and Brooklyn Water Bagels have signed up.
Established businesses are also expecting a boom.
"Eventually people will come from all over, not just Long Island," said Leah Baptiste, manager of Wayne Agassi's Salon and Spa at Bergen Street and Flatbush Avenue. The spa is considering extending hours on game days and offering packages for folks who want to enjoy the area while their partners attend the game.
"Not everyone is a sports fan," she said.
Indeed, even the arena isn't just for basketball fans. Besides serving as the Nets' new home after 35 years in New Jersey, the venue will also host concerts by Andrea Bocelli and Nets co-owner Jay-Z, Disney on Ice and an Islanders-New Jersey Devils preseason hockey game.
"This is going to be the new hot spot," predicted Desta Parris, co-owner of Vinnie's Styles, an upscale urban wear shop that opened on Flatbush Avenue in 2002. "Last year, business was up 10 percent, and hopefully things will increase when the stadium comes."
While many businesses anticipate more customers, some longtime stores are being displaced.
Rents are skyrocketing from $50 a square foot five years ago to as much as $200 a square foot for retail space closest to the arena, said Geoffrey Bailey of TerraCRG Commercial Realty Group.
The Skate Brooklyn skateboarding store is moving from Flatbush to Fourth for lower rent, said owner Peter Kocher. But he suspects visitors will venture beyond the immediate arena area.
"We'll still get postgame traffic," he said.
The explosion of shops and eateries on Flatbush Avenue shows no sign of slowing down, Bailey said. "It's going to get stronger," he said.