Nets CEO defends decision on arena design

June 10, 2009 6:01:39 PM PDT
The chief executive of the Nets defended his team's decision to jettison architect Frank Gehry's design for a new arena in Brooklyn and replace it with a more conventional and less costly option. The team announced last week that the Barclays Center in Brooklyn will be based on a design by Ellerbe Becket.

Nicolai Ouroussoff, the architecture critic of The New York Times, wrote Tuesday that the switch was "a shameful betrayal of the public trust, one that should enrage all those who care about this city." He called the new plan "a colossal, spiritless box" and said "its low-budget, no-frills design embodies the crass, bottom-line mentality that puts personal profit above the public good."

"Unfortunately the world we live in today is very different than what it was three or four years ago when we hired Frank," Nets chief executive Brett Yormark said Wednesday at Street & Smith's SportsBusiness Journal's conference on sports facilities and franchises.

"The world is more simplistic. It's not as grand and glitzy. And I'm not sure that design would have been appropriate right now, as much as we all loved it. I think the design that we have now is very appropriate. It speaks to Brooklyn."

Also at the conference:
-Mark Lamping, chief executive of the company building a new stadium for the Giants and Jets in East Rutherford, N.J., said he'd like to have a naming-rights deal before the building opens next year but sounded unsure whether he will.

-Mets executive vice president Dave Howard defended his team's $400 million, 20-year deal with Citigroup Inc. for Citi Field.

The Nets say they must break ground for the arena before the end of the year. Barclays PLC had the right to terminate its naming rights deal when construction failed to begin by last December, according to Yormark, but decided to give a one-year grace period.

Yormark said that despite the recession, there was still sufficient resources in the area to sell luxury suites.

"There is so much money in New York, and people still have it and made lots of it over the years," he said. "In today's market, if you can create that value proposition, they will spend it. And yeah, you can't take it for granted anymore and they're not out there leading with their wallet, but if there's good justification, people have disposable income in this market. There are 20 million people, and you can be successful."

However, he has learned from the empty premium seats at new Yankee Stadium, which are priced at $500 to $2,625.

"In some cases they have been scrutinized unfairly, in most cases unfairly," he said. "But I think what it has taught me and I think just people in general in the industry is the power or PR and how to manage PR and how to try to redefine perception. I just think it's made me look at that a little differently because you want to control the message in the market before the message is controlled for you."

New Jersey Devils owner Jeff Vanderbeek, in a later segment, repeated the Nets would be welcome at the Prudential Center in Newark if the Brooklyn deal falls through.

"We've always said that they would. We'd certainly welcome them with open arms," he said.

At the Meadowlands, talks with Allianz SE ended last September after Holocaust survivors and football fans said seeing the company's name on the stadium would be a constant reminder of the company's ties to Nazi Germany.

"The Jets and the Giants will be playing in this facility for a long, long time," Lamping said. "You can't force the economics of the deal in year one or year two simply because the market may not be where it needs to be."

As for Citi Field, Reps. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, and Ted Poe, R-Texas, urged Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner to demand that Citigroup cancel the deal because of $45 billion the bank received in government aid. Six New York House members asked the Obama administration to ignore the complaints.

"I just found that to be a very unfortunate, you know, politicizing of the issue," Howard said. "In this country, a contract is a contract. Congress does not have the power or the right to dictate that a contract should be breached. That to me is very offensive from a policy standpoint."

Howard said empty seats were not a big issue at Citi Field, where the top ticket price averages $495.

"I think we've been unfairly sort of tendered in this discussion," he said. "Where we see the issue for us is at the sort of I would say the fringes of the changes in the price points. ... It's not behind home plate. For us, it's not above the dugouts that's an issue. It's sort of in the fringes of the outfield, the fringes on the club level."