Architect unveils revised plans for new Nets arena

Updated: May 11, 2006, 10:15 PM ET
Associated Press

NEW YORK -- By 2009, the Nets could be playing home games beneath the billowing glass skirts of a 60-story skyscraper nicknamed Miss Brooklyn.

Noted architect Frank Gehry unveiled revised drawings and models of the planned arena on Thursday, revealing a more refined version of the mini-city that will also include apartment towers, office buildings, stores and a hotel.

The new renderings include substantial changes, but none of the reductions in size or scope demanded by opponents who say it is simply too huge for low-rise Brooklyn.

The critics, whose ranks include celebrity neighborhood residents like the actors Heath Ledger and Steve Buscemi, weren't on hand for the presentation, and Gehry, a star in his own right, was there to talk about artistry.

The 77-year-old architect said the complex's most prominent tower was inspired by a bride he glimpsed on one of several tours he made through the borough in an attempt to glean its character.

Brooklyn is better known for its tough guys, but "if you had seen that bride, you would have fallen in love with her. I did," Gehry said.

In some ways, the skyscraper and its undulating panels looks more like a massive white ship -- a square-rigged brig with its prow formed by Atlantic and Flatbush avenues.

Much of the arena would lie below and behind the tower, sunken partly below ground level, as if encased in the vessel's hold.

Residential apartment towers with a distinctly different design resembling a jumble of stacked blocks would surround the eastern half of the arena. From there, more buildings would stretch several blocks east, covering 22 acres in all with some 2,360 condominiums, 4,500 rental apartments, tree-lined walkways and a shallow pond.

Any fans thinking about trying to drive in for a game should fuhgeddaboutit.

"It's not an arena in a parking lot, like in the Meadowlands," Gehry said.

"What we are trying to do is create a skyline," he said, with buildings of different materials and heights, as if they had been developed over time.

Gehry's original conceptual sketches for the project were far more angular than the curvaceous designs on display Thursday. Then, the towers appeared to erupt from the ground like crystals, tilted and crooked.

Those plans were never intended to be a finished product, Gehry said.

"I was worried about even showing it, because it was so raw in form," he said.

Several fun concepts from the originals, however, have survived.

Fans without tickets would still be able to peer into the arena from at least one spot on the street. They wouldn't be able to see the playing floor, but the sidewalk will be at eye level with the scoreboard.

The design also still includes plans for a manmade meadow on the arena's roof, although this is a feature most visitors won't experience. The rooftop would be accessible only to residents, tenants or guests at a planned hotel.

Planners initially hoped to make the roof a public park, but doing so would have triggered regulations requiring huge stairwells for quick evacuation to the street, said the project's landscape architect, Laurie Olin.

Other technical challenges lie ahead for the meadow plan, Olin warned.

"We're going to try to do it," he said. "We don't know if we're going to be able to pull it off."

Developer Bruce Ratner, who bought the Nets in 2004 with the intention to move the team from New Jersey to Brooklyn, estimates the price tag at $3.5 billion.

There hasn't been a construction project this large in New York in many years, and never anything like it in Brooklyn, a city of brownstones, old stone churches and a rapidly shrinking supply of small factories and warehouses.

Few are mourning what Ratner's development will replace -- a railyard, ugly industrial buildings and hodgepodge of auto repair shops -- but hundreds of protesters have marched and rallied to complain about the expected influx of new residents and traffic.

"It is out of character and out of scale with its surroundings," said Daniel Goldstein, a spokesman for the group Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn.

The city approval process hasn't yet begun in earnest.

Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press