In a few hours a new era of Brooklyn entertainment will begin: Barclays Center opens tonight with a sold out concert by part-owner Jay Z.
I went for a look a few hours ago, so here's a report from the front.
Like the last minute rush before a party, all kinds of disparate things are going on, united only by a sense of anticipation.
Cute little trees are still being planted outside the stadium along Flatbush Avenue.
There is a noticeable police presence.
Also, a handful of soggy protestors. One, framed against a 20 foot tall image of Barbra Streisand's face holds a sign, "Brooklyn Swindled." A middle-aged man with a guitar and an ironic sense of humor sings, "What was Barclays thinking, What was Barclays drinking...."
TV vans are already parked. A rumpled New York Times reporter, notebook in hand, interviews a few straggling onlookers. A reporter from an unknown London magazine, looking for snarky political commentary from a Brooklynite and instead finding people who can't wait to hear Jay Z, says he's glad he lives in Williamsburg and not too near this behemoth of a stadium.
The new entrance to the Atlantic Avenue subway station -- it opens out right to the Barclays Center plaza -- has just been hung with classic NY subway signs for the B, Q, 2, 3, 5, 6 and other trains. Subway signs in New York are never new; they are like the Grand Canyon, as old as the hills. But these are shiny, new, bereft of graffiti. You get an imposing view of the spaceship-like stadium rising in front of your eyes as you ride the escalator up from the trains; in fact, all that's missing is a theme song from Star Wars. And maybe a red carpet.
A huge, egg-shaped advertising module hangs over the Barclays Center entrance. It flashes brilliantly colorful ads for Calvin Klein, Geico and Jet Blue, interspersed with teasers for future Nets games and concerts, and a few token nostalgia pictures of old Brooklyn, like Coney Island's historic Cyclone roller coaster. As a polite nod to the sharp elbows of its birthing, the Barclays Center notes that it is "proud to be part of Brooklyn's renaissance."
At a back entrance to the stadium, on Dean Street, a long line of men and women, mostly people of color, wait to get past x-ray security machines for jobs, a poignant reminder of the raging public controversy over the promised, never-realized jobs the stadium's construction and operation were supposed to produce.
In the surrounding neighborhoods, local restaurants are staffed up. One restauranteur is feverishly doing an inventory of a dozen crates of wine and alcohol on the sidewalk.
Like an old gal looking for a date, a few brownstones with storefront space for rent on Atlantic Avenue across from the Post Office have been gussied up and painted festive colors reminiscent of New Orleans' French Quarter. Note that "festive" is not a palette often associated with Atlantic Avenue --until the arrival of Barclays.
Walking into the brand-spanking-brand-new Nets Store by Adidas, which opens onto Flatbush Ave., it hits me: this is Brooklyn's first 21st-century incursion of major corporate retail and entertainment business.
Barclays represents the kind of professional corporate entertainment that makes Vegas Vegas, underpins the alienated urbanity of Singapore, and yes, makes today's Times Square so predictable. That's why this over-sized Barclays baby -- with its big bucks, big stars, big crowds --- doesn't seem to quite fit in with Brooklyn's organically-grown cultural"renaissance," which has been sparked by all things not-so-corporate: creative artists, inventive mom-and-pops, locavore- homegrown talent and intimate neighborhoods.
Well, whatever. The die is cast, the deal is done.
I'm headed back down to the arena area soon. I want to see what 18,000 people arriving all at about the same time actually looks like. Stay tuned.