Let’s be clear: The question is not whether Forest City Ratner has hired a reputable, experienced firm to run the food and beverage concessions at the Barclays Center arena. The question is not whether the arena will enforce State laws against underage drinking and patrons walking out the doors with drinks in their hands. And the question is most certainly not whether Barclays Center should be like all other U.S. sports facilities, which are able to serve alcohol. Let’s assume the answer to those questions is yes.
The real question is on what terms Barclays Center should be granted a license to open a bar with 18,000 seats. And right now the answer is, we don’t know.
We don’t know because Barclays has yet to release a code of conduct for its patrons. We don’t know because the NYPD hasn’t yet announced a plan for maintaining order and safety before and after arena events. We don’t know because Forest City Ratner has yet to explain how the parking lot two avenues east of the arena is going to be operated. And we don’t know because the representatives from Barclays who attended last night’s meeting of Community Boards 2 and 6 could not even commit to a time after which sales of alcohol at the arena would be cut off.
It’s not even clear that the arena operations team has thought through its crowd control strategy yet. At last night’s meeting, Peter Krashes of the Dean Street Block Association pointed out that the largest exit from Barclays Center is onto residential Dean Street. David Anderson of arena operator AEG stated that patrons would be directed away from Dean Street and on to Flatbush Avenue. That won’t work—Mr. Anderson apparently did not realize that an 1,100-car parking lot for arena patrons lies two avenues to the east down Dean Street.
Forest City Ratner is requesting what will surely be the most lucrative license to sell full liquor for on-premises consumption in Brooklyn. The projected concession revenue from the arena’s first year of operation is over $30 million, and alcoholic beverages could make up as much as half of that. Being awarded such a license is a significant privilege, and Forest City and its concessionaire have an obligation not only to be candid about their plans, but to be responsive to community concerns. It certainly would have been appropriate for Forest City to meet in advance with local leaders and elected officials to negotiate stipulations to the license that both arena operators and residents could live with. Instead, the team that presented the Barclays Center application last night was made up of lawyers and operations managers who made it clear they had no authority to agree to any of the very reasonable stipulations proposed by the CB 2 and 6 committee members. Forest City’s presentation was little short of the proverbial offer you can’t refuse.
Compare the proposal for Barclays Center to Wrigley Field in Chicago, one of the very few other examples of a U.S. sports facility located next to a residential neighborhood. Wrigley hosts only 30 night events per year (Barclays may host close to 200); to raise that number would require a vote of the Chicago City Council. And there is a hard cut-off for alcohol sales at 9:30 PM.
The history of Atlantic Yards has seen one blanket approval by government after another, usually with incomplete disclosure beforehand and inadequate oversight later. Community Boards should not be compelled to act in haste based on Forest City’s timeline. Instead, it is important for arena operators and the community not only to come together on the plans for safety and security of arena patrons and residents, but also to acknowledge the potential for outcomes that can’t be known until arena operations begin in the fall.
Because of the many variables involved in such a large liquor license, the State Liquor Authority should consider only a one-year, non-renewable license for liquor sales at the arena. During that time, arena operators, community representatives and elected officials can review the experience of liquor sales at Barclays, and work together in good faith to resolve issues that impact surrounding neighborhoods. Barclays can then apply for a new, continuing license that reflects agreed-upon policies.
In the meantime, an interim license for alcohol sales at the arena should reflect both the representations made by Barclays’ management and the reasonable concerns of local residents. Alcohol should only be allowed to be sold at ticketed arena events. No outdoor sales should be permitted. And a hard cut-off 11:00 PM or earlier should be required.
The permission to sell alcohol is granted by the same State government that gave Forest City Ratner the ability to override New York City zoning, and locate Barclays Center in the middle of residential neighborhoods. One would hope the State Liquor Authority—as well as Governor Andrew Cuomo—will now listen carefully to the concerns of the arena’s neighbors.