Brooklyn is getting ready for a new era as it welcomes its first professional sports team since the Dodgers left town. All this week NY1 is taking a look at the impact of the Nets and the Barclays Center on the community, on the borough and on the national stage. In part one, Brooklyn reporter Jeanine Ramirez has an exclusive interview with the developer and a look at how the controversial project evolved.
The Barclays Center is getting its finishing touches and developer Bruce Ratner is happy with what he sees.
"Even I was a little surprised at how magnificent and beautiful it is. I almost started crying because it's been a long haul, a long time," says Ratner.
A long haul is putting it mildly. It's been nearly nine years since Ratner first announced plans for the mega project that was to feature not just an arena but mixed housing and commercial space, even a hotel. There were legal battles, deals brokered, land seized, major design changes, star architect Frank Gehry departed, and the recession hit.
"When you try to do something like this you're going to have challenges. I think everyone right thinking realizes that this was well worth it," says Ratner.
Although Ratner announced in 2004 that he had bought the New Jersey Nets, with the economy tanking, by 2009 he had to bring in Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokorov to buy the majority of the basketball team. But Ratner still owns the majority of the arena, which he built where LIRR trains sit between Atlantic and Flatbush Avenues: Almost the same place as where the Dodgers wanted to build a new stadium 55 years ago.
"I just saw where it should be. The greatest place for transportation is right here. That's the right place for a public building like this," says Ratner.
But whether a privately owned arena is a public benefit sparked much debate and prompted lawsuits over the use of eminent domain. Buildings including homes that sat in the footprint of the project needed to be demolished.
"It's the American way. You're going to get opposition, you're going to get people that disagree," says Ratner.
To help create a positive buzz, Brooklynite Jay-Z -- a small investor in the team -- was given a major role. He designed the new logos and will open the arena with a series of concerts.
As for the rest of the Atlantic Yards project Ratner is asking for more patience. Instead of Gehry's glittering towers, Ratner promises 16 pre-fabricated residential buildings designed by the same architects as the Barclays Center.
"They'll be architecturally beautiful," notes Ratner.