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Bring Mets and Nets to Brooklyn

The Brooklyn Paper
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THE ANSWERS to the city’s stadium problems lie at the corner of Flatbush and Atlantic avenues. While real estate mogul Bruce Ratner continues to push ahead with his Atlantic Yards project — featuring a basketball arena for his Nets, 60-story office towers and a high-rise housing campus — arguments for less obtrusive, more neighborhood-friendly developments above the Long Island Rail Road storage yard continue to pop up.

I’ve heard them all, from a big park to low-rise, affordable housing to cheap space for arts groups.

And while any of those would be better than Ratner’s suburban campus superblock — which would complete the separation of Fort Greene and Clinton Hill from Prospect Heights that he started with the failed Atlantic Center mall — none of them are going to happen.

So the answer, of course, is to move the New York Mets to Brooklyn.

But before I get bombarded with hate e-mail, letters and phone calls, hear me out.

Now, I’m no fan of the use of the state’s power of eminent domain to take land away from people for the sake of one man making a buck. But if Gov. George Pataki (through his Metropolitan Transportation Authority appointees’ sale of air rights over the rail yard and the state’s power to invoke eminent domain) is determined to hand the site over to his buddy Ratner, let’s get a better outcome for the borough as a whole — expand on the genesis of Ratner’s project and build not just one, but two sports facilities.

Just as it was in the late-1920s when the Williamsburgh Savings Bank tower was built, the crossroads of Flatbush and Atlantic avenues is as prime a piece of real estate as any in Brooklyn. Granted, it’s not as close to Manhattan as Brooklyn Heights nor does it have the housing stock of Park Slope, but it’s a hell of a lot more accessible than, say, DUMBO.

The fact that the intersection sits atop one of the largest train terminals in the city — it could be considered Penn Station East — makes it the perfect spot for development centered around the mass gathering of people.

So while a mall like the new Target-anchored Atlantic Terminal isn’t a bad use for the crossroads, lugging all that stuff you buy home by train isn’t all that much fun.

But what if the only thing you needed to bring home from your trip to the area was that foul ball you caught? On second thought, make that a home run.

In the 1950s, Walter O’Malley considered moving his Brooklyn Dodgers to a domed stadium to be built at this crossroads with just that in mind. Depending on who you ask, either then-Parks Commissioner Robert Moses put the kibosh on that plan, or O’Malley simply chose the greener pastures of the Chavez Ravine in Los Angeles and its millions of baseball-less fans, over continued competition with the Yankees and Giants. (I believe the latter.)

Now, with the city contemplating new homes for the Yankees, Nets, Mets and Jets — and the public is in an uproar over where the teams should stay or go — it’s time to re-examine O’Malley’s idea.

THE PLAN to build a West Side football stadium accessible by just one new subway would jam-up the George Washington Bridge, Henry Hudson Parkway, every tunnel from New Jersey, and, well, pretty much the west side of Manhattan in general. This bad idea should be scrapped.

Shea Stadium in Flushing Meadows— one of the last of the ’60s cookie-cutter multi-use abominations — should be destroyed, and replaced there with a football-only stadium for the Jets to rival the Giants’ home in the Meadowlands.

And in Brooklyn, land about to be handed over to Ratner should house not only his Nets arena, but a 45,000-seat Mets ballpark as well — either at the site of the proposed arena, down the block along Atlantic Avenue, or on the site of the Atlantic Center mall.

The reason this should be considered is the nature of the games themselves.

A football game, with huge Sunday crowds and a short season, is more of an event than it is a night out on the town. When people go to football games, they use it as a reason to party — the phenomenon commonly known as tailgating. Well before and much after games, football stadium parking lots across the country are loaded with loaded fans celebrating their day off the best way they know how: with barbecues, beer and fold-up lounge chairs. Therefore, the best place for professional football is in places like the Meadowlands or Flushing Meadows, where access is easier by car and the stadium itself is surrounded by a parking lot.

Sports like baseball, basketball and hockey, with much longer schedules and more home games, are less events and more just a night out. With most games played on weeknights, it’s imperative the arena or ballpark be located within easy access of a large population — be it living or working nearby.

SINCE THE CITY of Baltimore shocked the world by building the Oriole Park at Camden Yards in its Downtown Inner Harbor area, professional teams have awoken to a fact the Knicks and Rangers here in New York have known all along — if you build an arena or ballpark in a place that has ample mass transit or in walking distance of a lot of people, they’ll show up in droves.

Proof that a downtown stadium works can also be found in San Francisco, where the baseball Giants’ new, privately funded ballpark sells out regularly, despite a severe lack of parking.

But I digress.

Mets owner and Lafayette High School graduate Fred Wilpon should be drooling at the proposition of breathing new life into his downtrodden franchise by moving the city’s National League ball club back to his hometown. With better train access, both local and regional, than both Yankee and Shea stadiums, and more people in walking distance, it would seem a no-brainer.

And with Ratner’s arena next door housing the Nets and, in the coming years, the National Hockey League’s Islanders, the crossroads of Atlantic and Flatbush would surely become the 12-month-a-year destination Borough President Marty Markowitz wants it to be.

And O’Malley just might turn over in his grave.


Vince DiMiceli, The Papers’ senior editor and production manager, can be reached at production@brooklynpapers.com


Updated 4:00 pm, November 10, 2010
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