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Old Posted Jun 22, 2009, 11:42 PM
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Nets envision a 'Brooklyn brand' for new arena

Jun. 19, 2009

With sports architect Ellerbe Becket officially replacing renowned civic designer Frank Gehry on the New Jersey Nets' Barclays Center project, the Nets are redeveloping their venue plans by focusing on the "Brooklyn brand."

The project's principals spoke about their vision for the building last week after the change in architects resulted in some withering criticism from, among others, The New York Times' architecture critic, who called the scrapping of Gehry's design "a shameful betrayal of the public trust."

But Brett Yormark, Nets Sports & Entertainment president and CEO, said bringing on the sports design firm to cut construction costs from about $1 billion to $800 million was the right call.

Gehry had never designed a big league arena before Nets owner Bruce Ratner called, whereas Ellerbe brings experience in building multiple NBA arenas that will help get the job done in time for a planned 2011 opening.

"They know where the land mines are, they know where the issues are, they bring best practices when it comes to building first-class venues around the world, to Brooklyn, which to me is so valuable, especially now," Yormark said. "We can't afford to have a misdirection, especially at this point in time."

Critics say Brooklyn will be the poorer without Gehry's futuristic, glass-clad design of a development in which towers surrounded the arena, but Yormark says that the new design will further the borough's brand by embracing its historical image as a working-class industrial hub.

"The biggest change is that the building is now going to evoke Brooklyn like never before," he said. "There's such a legacy there. Wherever I travel, it is an international brand. They wear it on their hats and on their chests. We're going ... to brand Brooklyn in a big-time way, and it will start with the look and feel of the building."

The 18,000-seat arena's two suite levels will be called the Brownstones and the Lofts. The exterior will have plenty of glass providing outside views into the bowl, which will continue to give the arena the contemporary feel Ratner wanted when he hired Gehry about five years ago. There will be plenty of natural light shining through the building as per Ratner's instructions, Yormark said.

In addition, the Nets are building a practice facility next to Barclays Center, on the corner of Flatbush and Atlantic streets, something that was not part of Gehry's design. The add-on ties in with the team's effort to form a close bond with Brooklyn's 2.5 million residents by having the players spend more time on-site, Yormark said.

The team plans to introduce 10-person mini-suites to the New York market for firms that ordinarily would not be able to afford the high-end premium experience after the team moves from the Izod Center at the Meadowlands, Yormark said.

Barclays Center's mini-suite concept is a reflection of the current market for premium seats, where teams are seeing their biggest spenders vacate the traditional 16-seat skyboxes in greater numbers than ever before. The number of mini-suites and their prices have yet to be determined, but the Nets' smaller corporate partners have shown interest, Yormark said.

"In a real sense, we may be planning what could become one of the new series of arenas going forward," said Bill Crockett, Ellerbe Becket's principal-in-charge of the project. "We are designing this in a very strategic way ... so that we can really adapt the inventory and mix of suites small to large."

Practical design changes include an interior layout where fans enter the arena's concourse at street level to get to their seats. It's a departure from Gehry's plans that mapped out an asymmetrical seating bowl with sloping suite levels. "Simpler sometimes is better," Yormark said.

New technology features include BCTV, similar to Cisco's StadiumVision, an in-house feed that will expose sponsors' brands to premium and public sections, "and if there's a way we can devise to deliver that to everybody in their seats, we will pursue that as well," Yormark said.

Ellerbe designed Conseco Fieldhouse, which set the standard for themed NBA arenas with tight seating bowls that other teams have strived to emulate since it opened 10 years ago. James Poulson, principally involved in that project, is part of the architect's design team in Brooklyn.

Steve Duethman, also on the team, was project manager for Virginia's John Paul Jones Arena, a college basketball facility many say is on par with NBA buildings.

Ellerbe also designed the Guangdong Olympic Stadium in China, where Yormark is spending time this week searching for additional sponsors, with a side trip to Hong Kong to visit a digital sign manufacturer's research and development facility.

The Nets plan to break ground in September, pending city approvals on the arena design.
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