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Bring Mets and Nets to Brooklyn - Brooklyn Paper

Bring Mets and Nets to Brooklyn

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

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