It does take some imagination to see how a rubble-strewn pier in Red Hook can become a glittering, state-of-the-art basketball training facility with a corporate sponsor and community amenities, but things like this happen in the Nets' Brooklyn all the time.
We visited the site at 280 Richards Street, Brooklyn, Saturday, the one that the Nets executives walked through Wednesday. It's one pier over from the Brooklyn IKEA (with its free weekend ferry from Manhattan). On the other side is a number of neatly restored 19th century warehouses, one housing the popular Fairway Market.
This is the fourth site the Nets have looked at so far in Brooklyn, reports Crain's New York Business. They looked at the first three in 2011 but decided not to move on any of them. Is this site a leading candidate or the first of several new sites the team will look at? It's more likely the latter. No matter. Richards Street says a lot about what the Nets are looking for: something dramatic, dramatically different, urban, with great views of the city (and not in Greenburgh, NY.)
The first thing that impresses about the property is how big it is...660,000 square feet or roughly 11 acres. For decades, the pier, actually a landfill jutting out into the Erie Basin, was home to the Revere Sugar Refinery, shown here in 2007. The refinery was torn down by developer Joseph Sitt after he purchased the property for $24 million in 2008. Since then, Sitt has proposed building a BJ's Wholesale Club and an NYU student housing complex at the site, all dependent on ferry service and all to no avail. As Crains reporter Daniel Massey wrote, luring the Nets to the location would be a coup...after all, it has lain fallow for four years.
The property does have advantages for the Nets.
--It is big and a big palette, something that would permit architects like Ellerbe Becket, who's done other NBA practice facilities, and SHoP, design architect for Barclays Center, to create an architectural gem. The MSG training facility in Greenburgh, NY, is only 110,000 square feet and non-descript. It combines training facilities and offices for the Knicks, Rangers and Liberty. You can be sure the Nets will want more space. This is Mikhail Prokhorov, after all. Still, it's hard to imagine the Nets needing all that property for a training site. Might they have other plans? Do remember that Bruce Ratner, the Nets minority owner and developer of Barclays Center, is Brooklyn's biggest real estate developer, perhaps ever. He'll figure something out!
--It's urban. Over the past two years, the Nets have quietly done a 180 in going from a suburban location with a suburban fan base to an urban location with an urban fan base. It wants to be Brooklyn's team and of course building a facility in a rapidly developing corner of the city could further show how it's more about the city than the Knicks. (Alan Hahn, the former Newsday writer who is now an MSG commentator, seemed to sense the Knicks disadvantage recently when he suggested the Knicks convert the empty Borders book store on Seventh Avenue into a practice facility like the one the Nets are building at Barclays Center. A Brooklyn training facility would just hightlight the differences.)
--It's on the water. The views from a multi-story practice facility (like this one from IKEA's third floor) would include the World Trade Center across Red Hook. Looking out onto the harbor, there's the Statue of Liberty. It would be dramatic (and dramatically different) locale for a NBA training facility. What the Cavaliers have done with the park-like setting of the Cleveland Clinics Courts, the Nets could do for a waterfront setting. If the Nets wanted to run a shuttle service from New Jersey and Manhattan into Red Hook, that's possible too. New York Water Taxi uses a dock next door to park its boats at night. Many of the Nets who live in New Jersey live in a gated community along the water in Hudson County.
--It's community-friendly. Unlike Barclays Center (or IKEA or Fairway) a Nets training facility would not attract much traffic (particularly if there is a ferry, which is not that much of a joke.) A lot of Escalades, Mercedes and an occasional Lamborghini, but not in large numbers. Adding amenities like basketball courts --indoor and/or outdoor-- would help. Doesn't hurt that it's a few blocks away from the Red Hook Projects where Carmelo Anthony grew up.
Are there disadvantages? Sure.
--It's likely to be very expensive. If Sitt paid $24 million for the site in 2008 and he's had carrying costs plus the costs of tearing down the sugar refinery, he'd like to make a profit. Of course, the price of real estate in New York is about location, location, location. The cost of the facility would cost tens of millions of dollars on top of that.
--It's still gritty. The property itself is in need of a lot of work and literally shoring up at the shoreline. The area is gentrifying from the water inland. But just as there a wine shop on the corner and nicely remodeled brownstones and row houses, there is also untended properties, still some barbed wire and empty industrial buildings, not all of which will become restaurants, apartments, whatever else comes about in a regentrified landscape.
--It's inaccessible. There's a reason why there's a ferry serving IKEA Brooklyn. It's not easy to get to, particularly for visitors. There's no subway service nearby and most of any trip from outside the borough is over surface streets. Moreover, getting to and from any of the region's airports won't be that easy. Remember, on road trips, teams leave from and return to their training facility
So, as they say in business decisions, what's the bottom line? The Nets lease in East Rutherford runs out in 2015. Nets executives assure us that the team will still be in PNY Center a year from now. With the re-branding of the Nets as the Brooklyn Nets, the PNY Center has seen a number of upgrades this summer, including the locker room. So there's not need to make a decision now. What is an issue is managing expectations. The arena is going to raise them. The Crain's story is going to raise them. Can Prokhorov and Ratner reach them.? So far, so good