Archive for Saturday, January 17, 2004

Possibility of Nets in Brooklyn prompts enthusiasm, criticism

January 17, 2004


— Ask any Brooklynite over 50 when the borough's golden age ended and the answer rarely varies: "When Dem Bums fled Ebbets Field."

The Dodgers' 1957 departure robbed Brooklyn of pro sports and, in many residents' minds, split the borough's history. On one side of the divide are idyllic days of stickball, trolley cars and summers on Coney Island. On the other, years of urban blight, street crime and racial strife.

But the still-wounded spirits from Canarsie to Crown Heights lifted a little this week at the sound of two words: Brooklyn Nets.

The possibility that developer Bruce Ratner will buy the New Jersey Nets and move them to a new arena near downtown Brooklyn is a chest-swelling shot of civic pride for a borough that's long lived in the shadow of Manhattan, many Brooklynites said.

And they said it using words like "bestill my heart," "pride" and "redemption."

"God is good," said Michael Shapiro, author of "The Last Good Season: Brooklyn, the Dodgers, and Their Final Pennant Race Together." Forty-seven years after that season, he said: "It's redemption."

"I grew up believing that had the Dodgers never left Brooklyn, everything would have been better," said Shapiro, a native of Midwood. "You can only imagine what it would be like in a downtown Brooklyn stadium. Bestill my heart."

But for many who would be the team's neighbors -- and for the hundreds who would be displaced by the new arena -- Brooklyn Nets has an ugly sound.

There are dozens of artists' lofts in old industrial buildings on the wind-swept stretch of railyards and multilane thoroughfares where Ratner wants to build a 19,000-seat arena at the heart of a $2.5 billion residential and commercial complex designed by Frank Gehry.

New York power broker Robert Moses turned down a pitch by Dodgers owner Walter O'Malley to build a stadium on the same site in the 1950s.

"If things had gone right, there would be a snow-covered, domed stadium on the corner of Flatbush and Atlantic Avenue, and this April the Brooklyn Dodgers would be returning there to play," Shapiro said.

But today's neighbors want none of it; in the gentrifying neighborhood of Prospect Heights that borders the site, residents are organizing petitions and hanging protest signs from windows.

Their sense of alarm heightened this week when sources proclaimed Ratner the front-runner in the bidding to purchase the Nets, and front-page headlines hailed the "Brooklyn Bounce."

Ratner wants neighborhood residents to voluntarily leave their apartments in exchange for generous offers of real estate, cash or both, a spokesman said Friday.

"There will be a long process of engagement, and that process is just starting," spokesman Joe DePlasco.

If there are holdouts, Ratner would use the government power of eminent domain to condemn the homes. The railyards are owned by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, a state agency controlled by Gov. George Pataki, who supports the project.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg and many other city officials also back the plan, although the area's city councilwoman and state senator have come out against it.

"It represents the kind of bulk and saturation that is going to destroy the character of the neighborhood," state Sen. Velmanette Montgomery said.

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