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Arena design: economics v. art

05gehry2_600.jpgA little delayed on this, but I’ve been getting my thoughts together since the news last week that renowned architect Frank Gehry’s design (see left) for the Nets’ new arena in Brooklyn was being tossed aside for a less expensive one by Ellerbe Beckett (see below right).

Economics were cited as the reason – the Ellerbe Beckett version is to cost about $200 million less than Gehry’s $1 billion glass-walled arena that is part of the Atlantic Yards development. Kansas City-based Ellerbe Beckett has designed stadiums and arenas, including Conseco Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, and BankAtlantic Center, the Sunrise home of the Panthers.

According to a New York Times story last week: “Officials who have seen the design say that while it resembles Conseco Fieldhouse it also bears a likeness to an ‘airplane hangar.’”

Say what you will about South Florida’s two arenas -- and plenty of fans have. I hear routinely how much fans love BankAtlantic Center for its ease of parking, wide concourses, comfort and carpeting. I’ve heard the Heat’s AmericanAirlines Arena is too stark, looks unfinished, isn’t as cozy.

But if we’re comparing architecture, AmericanAirlines Arena, designed by Miami-based Arquitectonica with Heinlein Schrock Stearns Architecture + Design, says Miami. It’s sleek and different and wouldn’t be deemed to look like an “airplane hangar.” By contrast, BankAtlantic Center could be described as a bunker in the swamp.

Clearly, this isn’t the time showy. But the $4 billion Atlantic Yards project has been delayed for years. Now Nets owner and Atlantic Yards developer Bruce Ratner is rushing to begin arena construction by year’s end so he can take advantage of tax-exempt financing.

You may think Gehry’s design was unrealistic to begin with – as one local team official expressed to me earlier this week – but it was ground-breaking and unique. It might not have changed arena design forever, but it would have become a showplace, a symbol of Brooklyn and the Nets.

Consider this: the past two decades have been spent replacing outdated stadiums and arenas that didn’t have revenue-generating premium seats and club seats. Dual-purpose (baseball and football) concrete doughnut stadiums have been replaced by ballparks with unique features. Of course, even those have become cookie cutter, as some teams have chosen to duplicate the red brick, green steel design. ellbeck_600.jpg

But those that chose to be different have successfully built sports venues that represent their communities, ones for which fans can immediately identify their place. Think PNC Park overlooking the Allegheny River in Pittsburgh; the old brick warehouse that’s part of Oriole Park at Camden Yards in Baltimore; and, even American Airlines Arena, overlooking Biscayne Bay.

Isn’t making progress correcting bad decisions of the past? Do we want to regret a decision that was made based on economics? Miami Arena, anyone? The pink elephant was obsolete when it opened in 1988, lost its tenants and was demolished last year.

Nicolai Ouroussoff, the New York Times architecture critic, called the scuttling of Gehry’s design "a shameful betrayal of the public trust, one that should enrage all those who care about this city." Read Ouroussoff's thoughtful piece here.

During the SportsBusiness Journal’s conference on sports facilities and franchises this week, Nets officials defended their decision, according to the Associated Press.

“Unfortunately the world we live in today is very different than what it was three or four years ago when we hired Frank," Nets chief executive Brett Yormark said Wednesday according to the piece. "The world is more simplistic. It's not as grand and glitzy. And I'm not sure that design would have been appropriate right now, as much as we all loved it. I think the design that we have now is very appropriate. It speaks to Brooklyn."

I’m not so sure.

What do you think?

Follow me on Twitter: @sarahtalalay

Categories: AmericanAirlines Arena (35), BankAtlantic Center (30)

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About the author
CRAIG DAVIS In more than 33 years at the Sun Sentinel, Craig Davis has written about a wide variety of sports topics from baseball to yachting, fishing to triathlons, and also worked as a copy editor and page designer. Recently he reported on local sports, including running, swimming, cycling, equestrian and beach volleyball. He enjoys sports as a participant as well as a spectator, is active in the South Florida running scene plays in the curling club at Saveology Iceplex. This blog offers a glimpse at the business side of sports in the interest of enhancing enjoyment of the games and sporting options as a spectator as well as a participant.
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