After years of fighting, redesigns, and cutbacks, Frank Gehry is now officially off the Barclays Center, the Nets basketball arena that was to be the centerpiece of his sprawling 22-acre Atlantic Yards complex in central Brooklyn. According to a statement released by Forest City Ratner, Gehry Partners is now the master planner for the site, having been replaced by Ellerbe Becket as designer of the arena. The announcement came less than an hour after the Times reported the news, which was attributed to various government officials and real estate developers who had seen plans for the new arena.
“Throughout this process—as litigation produced delay; as rising construction costs impacted the budgets of all developers; and a slowing economy altered expectations—Frank and his team have shown remarkable flexibility and professionalism, making cost-effective revisions as needed,” Bruce Ratner, chairman and CEO of Forest City Ratner, said in the statement. “The current economic climate is not right for this design, and with Frank’s understanding, the arena is undergoing a redesign that will make it more limited in scope.”
Last week, news broke that Ellerbe Becket was involved with the arena project, though at the time, Forest City Ratner maintained that Gehry was as well, which was not exactly surprising given the announcement in December that value-engineering was underway. According to the Times, the arena is now expected to cost $800 million, down from a projected $1 billion. A Ratner spokesperson declined to give exact figures, though he suggested the developer did not object to those numbers, either.
Asked for a timeline on the rest of the project, which includes 16 residential and office towers in addition to the arena, the spokesperson said that remained undecided, as the first priority was finishing the arena. But the spokesperson also suggested that Gehry Partners’ involvement might have come to an end. “Frank might design one of the buildings later, I don’t think it’s impossible,” the spokesperson said. “But right now, he is just the master planner.”
Calls to Ellerbe Becket were not returned, but the Times managed to wrangle a rendering of the project (seen above), despite Forest City Ratner’s release stating that images would not be available until the end of the month. Gehry’s swooping glass and metal designs have been swapped for a more traditional brick facade—something that has, in some ways, already been proposed—that is not unlike Ellerbe Becket’s Conseco Fieldhouse, home to the Indianapolis Pacers.
Gehry had long been seen as a linchpin to the project’s success, touted on the Atlantic Yards website and by numerous politicians. At the announcement of the project in December 2003, Borough President Marty Markowitz declared, “Brooklyn is a world-class city, and it deserves a world-class team in a world-class arena designed by a world-class architect.”
With the announcement of the Gehry removal, Markowitz has not changed his tune, though he is singing in a different key. “The great architect Frank Gehry has been absolutely central to creating the guiding vision for this project, and Ellerbe Becket is one of the best firms in the business—so we can be confident that the Nets and Brooklyn will indeed have a world-class, stunning arena here in Downtown Brooklyn,” Markowitz said in a statement.
Whether or not the switch will cause greater political fallout at the state and city levels remains to be seen, but Daniel Goldstein, head of anti-Yards group Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn, believes it will. “The project is a zombie project,” he said in a phone interview from Cleveland, where he has flown to attend Forest City’s annual shareholder meeting. “Governor Paterson had to take control and end the charade that this project benefits the public in any way.”
The greater political threat may not even come from Frank Gehry’s departure but from a handful of bureaucrats. Tomorrow, the Independent Budget Office is expected to release a report that shows that the arena, instead of netting a possible $25 million in tax revenues over 30 years, could end up costing the city money, as its contributions have risen from $100 million to $205 million.
Furthermore, Forest City Ratner’s efforts to renegotiate its $100 million payment to the MTA, which are due to be heard at a June 23 meeting, point to ongoing financial problems. “They want to pay $20 million upfront and the rest at a date to be determined,” Goldstein said. “If $80 million is that big of a deal to them, then they’re still in a lot of trouble.”
He also questioned whether Barclays would still be interested in paying $400 million over the course its 20-year naming-rights deal, now that it would not be attached to a Frank Gehry-designed building.
It has not been all bad news for Gehry, however, as Forest City Ratner announced on Monday that the architect’s 76-story Beekman Tower would go ahead as planned, instead of being capped at 40 stories as had been considered earlier this year. Could that decision have had any bearing on today’s announcement? “No, I don’t think there’s any connection,” the Forest City Ratner spokesperson said. “These are business decisions.”
Update: Earlier this morning, Ellerbe Becket sent AN the following statement:
"We are thrilled to be working on what will be a world-class sports and entertainment venue," Bill Crocket, a firm principal, said. "In partnership with Forest City Ratner, we will deliver a spectacular arena that will give Brooklyn the first-class facility it deserves."