NEW YORK (Reuters) - Big-time professional sports returned to Brooklyn for the first time in more than 50 years on Friday, when the Brooklyn Nets finally unveiled their new stadium after a decade-long fight with neighbors.
The 675,000-square-foot, 18,000-seat Barclays Center will officially open on September 28 with a concert by rapper Jay-Z, and the Nets - formerly the New Jersey Nets - will play their first game at the arena, against the New York Knicks, on November 1.
The team's arrival marks the first time in 55 years the borough can lay claim to a major professional sports team, following the removal of the celebrated Brooklyn Dodgers to Los Angeles, a move that outraged local baseball fans.
Built on the site of a gritty former rail yard, the arena sits in the middle of a busy shopping area. But the project's close proximity to a rapidly gentrifying stretch of quaint residential neighborhoods made it a lightning rod for criticism.
The main opposition came from Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn, a group that fought the development's use of eminent domain. The group has planned a series of "It's a Crime!" events next week to protest what it says are the project's failures, including long delays in the construction of affordable housing.
But at the ribbon-cutting, where developer Bruce Rattner was flanked by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Nets' majority owner Mikhail Prokhorov, there was little talk of the legal battles that had long delayed the event.
Architect Gregg Pasquarelli said the arena's design was meant to pay homage to the "grittiness of Brooklyn," while still appearing modern and employing elegant, minimalist elements.
"We were trying to push the limits of what a sports arena can be. We wanted to make this arena more like a cultural building or a museum," said Pasquarelli, as he led a tour of the facility. "What we love about sports is it's theater with an uncertain ending. What shines is the court... the performers."
The arena's exterior is formed from 12,000 unique panels of weathered steel and its canopy entrance rises 30 feet from the ground. The scoreboard - though not the court - can be seen clearly from the outdoor plaza at the entrance.
"When the Nets get really good, this place will be rocking," Pasquarelli said. "You'll get incredible acoustics, it will be loud. It will give them an incredible home-court advantage."
Andrew Zimbalist, a professor of economics at Smith College who has studied the economic impact of arenas, said the Barclay's Center spelled good news for Brooklyn - largely because an existing fan base in New Jersey would now cross into New York to spend money on tickets and entertainment.
"The revenue that used to accrue in New Jersey will now accrue in Brooklyn," he said.
Outside the arena, the response was mixed.
Jahmel Phillip, a Brooklyn native, said he planned to take his three children to the arena for their first taste of professional basketball. But Eric Dessner, an eye doctor who moved recently to the area, said he found it ugly.
"It looks like it's 50 years old and rusting over," he said.
But he conceded it would be good for Brooklyn, because it would both boost local businesses and bolster local pride. For Brooklyn, he said, "It's showtime. It's on the map. It has a professional sports team."
The Brooklyn Dodgers played at Brooklyn's Ebbets Field until 1957, when the baseball franchise was moved to California and renamed the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Shop owners were more upbeat.
"I'm ecstatic," said Paul Parris, a co-owner of Vinney's Styles, a menswear shop several blocks from the arena that specializes in sneakers and urban fashion. He said he planned to stay open later on game nights.
"This is everything they're going to be wearing to the games," he said.
Reporting by Edith Honan; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Eric Walsh