Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov, who already owned 80% of the Brooklyn Nets and 45% of the Barclays Center where they play, bought the remaining shares of those two items from developer Bruce Ratner over the holidays. (If I’m doing the math right, Prokhorov paid $285 million in cash, plus $344 million in promised future payments.) But the interesting part of the transaction, as uncovered by Atlantic Yards Report’s Norman Oder, is that the financial documents released then show that the Barclays Center is continuing to lose money:
The Barclays Center had a terrible year financially in the fiscal year ending June 2015. Net revenues plummeted, to less than half the total once projected, and the arena lost some $9 million in what was (roughly) its third year in operation…
The arena’s net operating income (NOI) fell well behind expectations, to $38 million, due to declines in event and related revenues, while operating expenses remained high.
We’ve heard this before, particularly two years ago when it was revealed that despite being one of the top-selling arenas in the U.S. in its first year, the Barclays Center was still barely breaking even after paying off its construction debt, thanks to high operating costs and discounts being offered to performers to lure them to Brooklyn instead of one of the New York area’s many other arenas. That seems to be even more the case now, and while the arrival of the Islanders provides more dates for 2015-16, that’s not necessarily a good thing: It also displaces nights that the arena could be rented out for concerts, and the arena’s weird rent deal with the Islanders (the arena pays team owner Charles Wang a flat negative rent, but keeps all ticket and other revenues) means that if ticket sales are slow, the arena could end up taking a loss on the NHL.
All of this means it’s a good time to wonder what the hell exactly Ratner and Prokhorov got out of this arena that has turned a large swath of Brooklyn upside down for more than a decade now. The purchase price on the last chunk of the arena valued it at slightly less than the construction cost, so Ratner’s not quite breaking even on the money he poured into the arena itself. (Yes, he got a pile of public subsidies, but those were in the form of discounted land and tax breaks, so not anything he can actually put in the bank now that he doesn’t own the building.) He also got the development rights to a bunch of land where he can erect apartment towers, but that isn’t going all too well either, though at least a couple of buildings are now close to completion.
Prokhorov, meanwhile, has put in somewhere around $1 billion in order to own a historically awful NBA franchise plus an arena that might just, if you squint, be able to break even. Of course, he might see this as a perfectly reasonable price to pay to be able to hang out with NBA players and do whatever the hell this is. He has more billions where that came from, anyway.
As for Brooklyn residents, we now have a terrible basketball team to watch, and a pretty decent hockey team, and a garish arena and some growing housing towers on a site that otherwise would probably have something similar anyway, given that pretty much every possible site in Brooklyn now has a giant apartment tower going up on it. And any revitalization effect on the surrounding neighborhood has been mixed at best: There’s a Shake Shack and other new restaurants, certainly, but then, there were new restaurants opening in droves in that area even before the arena was planned; meanwhile, the site of the old Triangle Sports sporting goods store, which was cited as the harbinger of a land rush when its owners closed it and put the building up for sale, is still vacant almost four years later.
It’s probably too simplistic to say of the Brooklyn arena that everybody ended up a loser, but certainly there are no clear winners. I’m going to be spending some more time shortly digging into some of these questions so I can wrap up the final chapter of The Brooklyn Wars (which means, yes, there’s actually a publishing date visible at the end of the tunnel), at which point I can probably provide some firmer answers. But for now, man, was that an epic train wreck, or what?