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WALKING TOUR: Nine months on, Barclays Center still empty but things have changed

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It’s been nine months since the Nets last played a regular season game at Barclays Center and a lot has changed. So that if you haven’t been back to the corner of Flatbush and Atlantic since then, you’re likely to be surprised at what’s happened since COVID-19 emptied the arena.

So, I went to Barclays Center before the Nets/Celtics to check everything out.

First things first. That tower on the left is 51 stories tall. It’s topped out and will be filled out over the next year. What you can’t see from this angle is another new tower a block away down Flatbush Avenue, that one 26 stories high...

Around the perimeter of the arena, too, there’s a lot going on. As John Abbamondi, the CEO of BSE Global, the parent company of the Nets and Barclays Center, told Michael Ozanian and Forbes Sports Money, he’s using the pandemic to build on the arena’s experience.

“We’re using this time (pandemic) to invest. We’re investing in people. We just brought on some new senior executives that we’re extremely excited about,” Abbamondi said, noting the physical improvements as well. “We’re investing in our arena. We’re building a new entrance on Flatbush Avenue. We’re building a brand new team store.”

Here’s where the new entrance will likely be, the old Nets Swag Shop that will be moved to a larger space. Midway along the arena’s Flatbush Avenue facade, the new entrance would help with ingress and egress along the main concourse, thus improving social distancing.

Below is a closer look. (People were staring hard, probably thought I was planning to rob the place so I made it quick!)

Out front, there’s new signage as well. Instead of the static sign near Flatbush, there’s the near transparent LED mesh sign that will light up the entrance plaza with advertising or community messages. Tuesday, it’s all about the game...

Here’s a video of what the sign will look like at night, per the manufacturer, ClearLED.

Even the most familiar parts of the arena have changed since March. Take the subway entrance. The Angela Davis quote remains in a prominent place, five months after an “anonymous” partner leased the space.

When talking about how Barclays Center was utilized in the past months, Abbamondi noted how the entrance plaza had become Brooklyn’s “accidental town square,” from the George Floyd protests on the entrance plaza to the four mobile pantries New York non-profits set up just inside the arena to the voting booths used in the Presidential elections,

“You saw us do a number of things to try and reach out and help the community. We turned Barclays Center into a polling location. Prior to that we used Barclays Center during those dark months as a food distribution center for tens of thousands of Brooklynites and other New Yorkers who are in need. And even little things like using our out of home advertising assets. The electronic billboards we have to promote social justice messaging. Those kinds of things I think all brands are taking notice of and are talking about.”

And he added, “We haven’t laid off a single employee. We continue to pay our arena staff.”

It’s not just the arena itself that’s changed. So has the neighborhood. There are new storefronts as well as this... a tribute to Kobe Bryant across Flatbush.

Flatbush Avenue is finally gaining —eight years after the arena opened— some retail buzz.

There’s Shake Shack (where you might find an NBA player, post-game) and Chick-Fil-A and now Snipes, the sneaker store that’s teamed with the arena on some community efforts.

And further up Flatbush, at No. 206, there’s Be, the marijuana dispensary. Here’s their message.

Of course, recreational marijuana use is still in limbo in New York State, unlike the 12 states where it’s completely legal. Weed has been decriminalized in the Empire State and medical marijuana has been legalized.

It’s funny how quick time can change. The Nets are playing the Warriors on opening night and that’s going to be the marquee matchup of the day. We’ve come a long way folks!