Our final project this semester is to write an economic snapshot of a neighborhood in NYC. I chose to evaluate the Barclays Center, the new entertainment and sports arena built in Atlantic Yards in Brooklyn.
Barclays Center Pinpoints Local Winners and Losers in Business
By Sonya Chudgar
A Darwinian evolution transpired in 1962 on New York’s Upper West Side, a neighborhood so rough, it was cast as the lead antagonist in West Side Story. When local leaders unveiled the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, the Upper West Side turned to mirror the Center’s classy endeavors, reducing its grit throughout the ‘60s and ‘70s in favor of gentrification.
The Lincoln Center is just one historical example of a facility that ignites urban cleanup in the neighborhood it anchors. Next on history’s list may be the Barclays Center.
The Barclays Center opened in late September in Atlantic Yards, a community announced in 2003 by Forest City Ratner. The development firm championed the $1 billion Barclays Center as a rebirth for Brooklyn. The entertainment and sports arena repositioned the NBA Nets from New Jersey to Brooklyn, and the NHL’s New York Islanders agreed to join the venue in 2015.
Underlying the announcement was the promise of economic development, from the 300,000 square feet of proposed retail space to the boost incumbent businesses would afford.
But weeks after the arena’s opening, several empty storefronts and “out of business” signs dominate Flatbush Avenue to the Center’s right, illuminating one silent truth in Forest City Ratner’s proposal: While the Barclays Center will spur economic development, it will fundamentally change the nature of businesses that can succeed in its vicinity.
Changing the Economic Landscape
Unlike the Upper West Side, Atlantic Yards was not born on mean streets. Instead, it meets at the cusp of three Brooklyn neighborhoods: Park Slope, Prospect Heights, and Fort Greene. The brownstone and gentrification revolution swept through the area as it did much of Brooklyn in the late ‘50s. Families swayed by the region’s architectural character, diversity, smaller scale, and local businesses moved in and settled into a residential routine there.
The Barclays Center is turning the routine upside down, says Gib Veconi, treasurer of the Prospect Heights Neighborhood Development Council.
“You might have expected a small business to come in, entrepreneurs to come in, everything else,” Veconi says. “Instead, it’s really the landlords and the national brands that will move in there that are going to be the most benefited.”
Listen to Gib Veconi’s take on the Barclays Center and check out some photos of the area!
The Center lies on a patch of land between two distinct avenues. On the left corridor is Atlantic Avenue, where a haven of national brands such as Target, Designer Shoe Warehouse (DSW), Best Buy, and Victoria’s Secret prosper.
Across the street on Flatbush Avenue, the Barclays Center is driving rents up and small businesses out.
“If they increase my rent, I gotta leave,” says A.B. Fulani, owner of an eponymous shop that has sold men’s suits and high-end clothing on Flatbush Avenue for 15 years.
“I’ve been around a long time,” Fulani says. “I knew when [the Barclays Center] opened that it wouldn’t be good. It’s not doing me good so far. I’m not getting the same people that I used to get.”
Veconi says rents surrounding the Barclays Center are hitting $175 per square foot, “which is huge.” Retail rents are usually $5-10 per square foot in the area, according to property listings.
At the Furniture House on 170 Flatbush Ave., owner Ruben Mesa regards the arena with narrowed eyes.
“Well, I’m moving,” says Mesa, whose store has been a staple of the neighborhood since 1991. “So, that’s the story—and it’s because of that.” He points at the Barclays Center sitting 30 feet across the road.
Joy Mesa, Ruben’s wife, says she hopes they find a Brooklyn storefront to relocate to, though she’s not hopeful, given the climbing rents.
“A lot of people will tell you, ‘Oh, you’re getting business because you’re near the Barclays Center!’ But no, we’re not,” she says. “It depends on what your business is. If you’re a restaurant or a bar, then yes, you probably are. But us? Not a furniture shop.”
The ultimate victor of Atlantic Yards is Bruce Ratner, whose firm built the complex. Ratner’s is worth about $400 million, according to USA Today, and he earned another $200 million for selling majority ownership of the Brooklyn Nets to Russian tycoon Mikhail Prokhorov. His nonchalant stance in seizing Brooklyn’s eminent domain outraged locals.
The press office at the Barclays Center did not respond to requests for comment.
Brooklyn President Marty Markowitz has been one of the staunch proponents of the Barclays Center since the beginning, galvanized by the arena’s ability to elevate the status of the borough and rejuvenate business in the area.
“Of course, I remain optimistic that this project will create thousands of jobs and bring much needed affordable housing and even more vitality to downtown Brooklyn,” he said when the new Barclays Center design was announced in 2009.
But for business owners such as Fulani and Mesa, the Barclays Center has been a misery.
Veconi says the neighborhood dynamic will shift from family folk to those chasing the nightlife, as developers commercialize with the fervor of a child quenching a sweet tooth.
“It’s going to feel very different over there,” he explains. “It’s going to be like something that will resemble SoHo or the Upper West Side than what’s been traditional in brownstone Brooklyn.”
The pivot is already in motion, eradicating mom-and-pop businesses and uplifting the food and beverage industry.
Logan Bowles is manager at gourmet falafel restaurant Kulushkät on Dean Street, a block from Flatbush Avenue. He says business has improved since Barlcays opened last month, adding that nearby bars now blow up with customers during big sports games.
Business has increased 50 percent at the Cake Ambiance, a pastry shop on Dean Street with sprinkle cupcakes and red-velvet-cheesecake mélanges.
“Especially after games or shows or whatever, people come out and buy,” says manager Modupe Gonzalez.
Rent has not increased yet at the Cake Ambiance. Gonzalez says she expects it will soon, though the store has no plans to relocate regardless of a rent hike.
Another beneficiary of the Barclays Center is Brooklyn-centric shopping.
Yukiko Wada and husband Chris Smith own the apparel store Brooklyn Rock on Dean Street. From the teal exterior to the multicolored lights dangling off the wall, their shop oozes flair.
Everything in the store is handmade by Wada and Smith. Humor radiates from the products, from mugs that quip “I got mugged in Brooklyn” to shirts that depict the Brooklyn Nets as hunters who wield butterfly nets and chase basketball players.
The shop’s native appeal made it an attractive investment to the building’s owner, Wada says.
“I’m sure the arena has driven up rent, but our landlord wanted the right business here,” she explains. “We’re Brooklyn made. He wanted to try to get artists and neighborhood people [into the store].”
Success stories such as Brooklyn Rock and the Cake Ambiance support the views of Veconi and Markowitz. The two differ in their opinions on the Barclays Center, but both are exact about its impact: it will transform the businesses that succeed in Atlantic Yards whilst growing into Brooklyn’s entertainment heart.
“Think about all the jobs that the arena will generate for the businesses that provide services to Barclays Center, and all the shops and restaurants will be booming thanks to the hundreds of thousands of visitors flocking to this arena,” Markowitz said in September at the Barclays Center ribbon-cutting ceremony.
Until the gentrification is complete, though, the defeated business owners on Flatbush Avenue will dwell under the shadow of the Barclays Center.