With their decision to put their training facility to the Brooklyn Waterfront, the Nets have bought into an idea that a gritty urban landscape can be turned into the latest youth-oriented neighborhood in New York, a Meatpacking District for Brooklyn.
Industry City, which will be the Nets' players new home, is now mostly a rundown relic of a past era, when Brooklyn was a manufacturing and shipping hub. But with the Nets as their anchor tenants and an emerging artists colony scattered around the giant complex, the complex's new owners, Jamestown Properties, hope to recreate Manhattan's hippest neighborhood on the Brooklyn waterfront.
Developed more than a century ago as one of the first industrial parks in the U.S., the area is at the beginning of a full-scale renovation and re-birth. A 10-year plan was announced in September 2011 to rebuild the local infrastructure, repaving the streets that separate the property's buildings, renovating bulkheads to the buildings that line the waterfront, installing overhead power distribution.
But critical to the plan is bringing youth-oriented culture to the 30-acre site and 16 original buildings, one of which, Building 19, will be topped by the Nets training facility. Already there are artists lofts and "creative workspaces" for fashion designers etc., galleries and large open spaces to develop technologies like 3-D printers, (being manufactured by MakerBot in a 50,000 square foot space on a floor below the Nets' facility)
The next step the owners hope is adding retail and restaurants to draw young people not just to work, but to play, to create nightlife. That step will require a high profile tenant to create some buzz. That's where the Nets come in. Industry City thinks the addition of an NBA team is going to give their property street cred, make people and prospective tenants alike take notice that something cool is going on, take a look.
There will be challenges, a lot of them. Unlike the Meatpacking District, Industry City isn't well-served by the city's transportation network. Right now, there's one only small subway stop nearby: at 36th and Fourth, four blocks from the training facility, served by the N, R and the D trains. So getting people there will require some unique infrastructure: a Water Taxi stop near the Nets training facility is being discussed and a network of bike and pedestrian paths ultimately could run through the property, linking it to Hipster Brooklyn. There is plenty of parking and access to the BQE. Will that be enough?
What Industry City has that the Meatpacking district doesn't have is spectacular views of New York Harbor, from Lower Manhattan past the Statue of Liberty down to the Verrazzano Bridge, whether in a rooftop restaurant or on a short trip across the bay by Water Taxi. With the Nets high up and near the water, players and staff will have among the best views.
Turning Industry City into a hipster hangout is calculated. It hasn't been as organic as it was in Manhattan with the Meatpacking District. It was planned. The Nets training facility is just the latest example of a strategy best described as "if you build it, they will come." In 2009, Industry City began the process of turning the gritty into the hip by building 30,000 sq. ft. of artists' studios. It's now grown to 125,000 sq. ft. The deals were good, just as the Nets one is.
That planning goes beyond showcasing space and location. Its owners have sponsored creative events and workshops to cross-fertilize the artistic process, using film screenings and art shows. In addition, to promote its availability to fashion designers, Industry City hosts Brooklyn's Fashion Weekend, a biannual exposition showcasing the work of local and international fashion designers. Recently, 1,000 people paid $95 each to attend the "Vendy" awards for street food vendors.
Last August, things turned even more aggressive. The property was taken over by Jamestown Properties, developer of Chelsea Market, an anchor of the Meatpacking District. Jamestown in turn hired Andrew Kimball, who Crain's New York recently called "the person who is arguably the city's leading authority on revitalizing downtrodden industrial properties." Kimball just finished nine years as head of Brooklyn Navy Yard, where he brought in Steiner Studios, a film and TV production facility, the kind of business Industry City wants to attract. Before that, he helped develop Chelsea Market. So he knows what to do.
Among the supporters of the plan and Kimball is outgoing Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz, who was Barclays Center's biggest booster.
"With Andrew Kimball [and his] record of job creation and economic development onboard at Jamestown, they have a long-term commitment toward bringing quality manufacturers, artisan designers and high-end developers on a large and sustainable scale to the Brooklyn waterfront," Markowitz told Crain's not long after Kimball was hired.
Kimball will have a lot to work with. Even without the Nets, the giant facility has attracted an eclectic mix of tenants. The list includes Virginia Dare, a manufacturer of food flavors; Freecell, an architectural firm; Fiber Media, a data center; Tumbador Chocolate, manufacturers of custom bonbons; Paul Chan, a video artist; Nils Folk Anderson, a sculptor; Indiegogo, an "incubator" for arts and fashion projects; Tamar Ettun, a sculptor and performance artist; K8 Hardy, a music video director; Torild Stray, a painter; Peter Maslow, a painter of urban environments; NEW, Non-traditional Employment for Women; Yona Verwer, a muralist; Lenore Mizrachi, a designer as well as street artists Andrew Hermida, who specializes in caricatures of Mr. Met, and Cycle. There's also Marian Spore, a new art collection, in one of the buildings.
The next step is now up to Jamestown. It will take a year for the Nets to get all the needed permits, particularly for the signage on Building 19. Then, another year for construction. In the meantime, expect Industry City and Kimball to mount a campaign to find restaurants and retail space to replace eyesores, of which there are a number. It may take a while, which everyone knows going in. But the deal is too good for both sides. Industry gets the buzz. The Nets get a training facility in Brooklyn, on the water, something for pundits to compare with the Knicks bland training facility in Westchester County.
The Nets literally looked at dozens or perspective sites, in Jersey City, Manhattan and Brooklyn. The process was slowed by Hurricane Sandy. Several of the first sites they looked at were under five feet of water during the superstorm surge that flooded the harbor. So, now, the final site is 80 feet above the water! It's not as close to Newark Airport (the best area airport for charters) as a site in New Jersey would have been. Building in the city rather than the suburbs is a lot more expensive.
So, Industry City may not be the perfect location --it will take a few years for ownership's dream to be realized-- but one thing is for sure: it's another sign the Nets are in the city, of the city. That's a big deal.