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A Visit to 620 Atlantic Ave., Brooklyn: What Dwight Howard Saw Friday

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That's reportedly the new official address of The Barclays Center of Brooklyn, the new official name of the Nets new official arena.  On Saturday, we were nearby and so took a walk around the site and neighboring blocks, unescorted. We wanted to get a sense of what's new ... and to see what Dwight Howard might have seen as he whizzed by on Friday evening.

It's our first visit since May and things have indeed changed.

Now that the roof is racing across the arena's 350-foot-long trusses, the impression from ground level is that how enormous it is. It is much larger and grander in scale than the brownstones to the south but for the most part it's in sync with the downtown feel of the area between the corner of Atlantic and Flatbush and the bridges to Manhattan.

The critics may not want you to call the area Downtown Brooklyn, but the market is taking care of that. Much of the area headed toward the bridges has the same architectural feel...modern, dynamic and very new.  The ultra modern Toren Tower and 80 DeKalb signal what is likely an approaching march of newer, more iconic high rise buildings around and near the arena, some of which Bruce Ratner will build, some which others will be build. Ratner hopes that by Opening Night in September 2012, a 34-story apartment tower will be rising at the southeast corner of the arena... designed by the same architects as designed the arena facade.

Speaking of the facade, the "mega-panels" that will make up the arena's facade or "skin" are being installed slowly along Atlantic Avenue, mostly behind the construction barrier and out of public view. But in recent days, some have been installed along the roofline. Expect a public relations roll-out soon.  Once the 921 panels start to encircle the arena, the look will change dramatically and no doubt surprise. If you go over to 752 Pacific, near where we parked, one of the panels is on display.

Already, the clubs that will serve the arena are going up, indicating other smaller-scale, arena-motivated commercial activity is starting to rise as well.  Prime 6 and Machavelle have renovated their properties. A mattress store where the largest of the new clubs, Players GastroPub, will go is having a going-out-of-busines sale. Bark, an aptly named hot dog restaurant nearby, is doing well in anticipation of the opening. It's where the Nets often bring guests.

There didn't seem to be any outward opposition. No graffiti or protest signs on the construction fencing we saw. In fact, we spotted two other fans snapping pictures of the construction.  Traffic even on a late Saturday afternoon was heavy and we had to skirt a fender bender at the corner of Atlantic and Flatbush. We anticipate once the arena is open, that intersection is bound to get even messier for a variety of reasons, not all of them anticipated. The stop line for westbound Atlantic Avenue traffic at Fort Greene Place is just opposite the VIP Entrance and Practice Facility curbside viewing point. "Was that Kim Kardashian!?!"  Rubber necking galore.

Down below street level, we walked the soon-to-be renamed Barclays Center station, linking the new LIRR Atlantic Terminal station with nine subway lines. Game days, it's going to be jammed down there on the concourse. It's somewhat of a rabbit's warren, but signage should be improved by Opening Night and the Transit Connection to the arena plaza will be open.  To get from the LIRR to the subway side, you have to use your MetroCard, but with some cooperation between the Nets, the Barclays Center and MTA, the pass-through could be accommodated with the proposed NetroCard (or IslesCard): a combination ticket to the subways, other MTA lines and the game or other event.

Bottom line: this is a very urban place, very gritty, very dynamic and very Brooklyn.