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Game Time

The fighting is over; Bruce Ratner’s Barclays Center is here. Now that he’s built it, will they come?

On a sweltering, oppressively humid August afternoon in Brooklyn, as some poor lady across the street yells at her shirtless son to getbackoverhereyou while pushing a stroller through the front doors of the Applebee’s across from the Atlantic Center, as a construction worker blankly looks on while gnawing on a bagel sandwich and smoking a cigarette, as a half-clothed homeless man pours a bottle of some indeterminate liquid on his head to stay cool … it’s impossible to believe that Jay-Z is going to be here in about a month and a half. This place is about as glamorous as stepping in chewing gum on the subway platform.

The construction on Barclays Center has been going 24/7 for about a month now to prepare for the big opening night, September 28, the first of eight Jay-Z concerts to open up the Brooklyn building, but all told, it’s pretty quiet this Sunday. It’s so hot that most of the laborers are sitting around dumping water on each other, the massive crane above the structure’s oval roof is idle, and the Modell’s across the street, with all the Brooklyn Nets gear, is mostly empty and sad. (Though not nearly as sad as the lonely shelf of Linsanity jerseys.) There are people bustling around, through Buffalo Wild Wings and Men’s Wearhouse and that terrifying Target, in a fashion more Times Square than Downtown Brooklyn. There have been complaints about Barclays Center construction, but the much larger issue is the narrowing of streets, turning that gnarled Fourth Avenue–Flatbush Avenue–Atlantic Avenue intersection into a sweaty game of urban Twister.

Other than the Modell’s—the official sporting-goods retailer of the Brooklyn Nets, and the spot where the team debuted its spiffy new circular-B logo back in April—the only signs that the neighborhood is preparing for the franchise’s arrival are a billboard featuring the team’s newly acquired shooting guard Joe Johnson (not, notably, their prime off-season target, Dwight Howard, who was recently traded to the Los Angeles Lakers), proclaiming HELLO BROOKLYN, and a corporate rental building on Sixth Avenue and Atlantic called Atlantic Terrace. There’s a sign on the side of the building from Ingram & Hebron Realty, the brokers. WANTED, it says. SPORTS BAR/LOUNGE. CLOTHING. MARKETPLACE. FITNESS. HEALTHCARE. RESTAURANT. 2,000–11,200 SFT AVAILABLE. WE WANT TO HEAR ABOUT YOUR USE! The retail space right now sits empty.

The sides of Barclays Center, with their imposing, metallic, strangely toaster-looking exteriors, are essentially completed. It’s the entrance that still needs the most work. The building’s giant overhang, an immense oculus, is coming together to the point that you can see where the LCD display screen that will flash tonight: heat at nets is going to go. The new subway portal, with an escalator from the Atlantic Avenue–Flatbush Avenue megastation to the building’s main entrance plaza, has taken shape; had I been able to sneak past the security guard at the gate of the construction site, I might have been able to run down its stairs. I just would have had to stomp through a lot of mud to get there. One thing you can see, though, from the street, one thing that’s definitely done: the opulent chandeliers from one of the stadium’s swankier luxury suites. The space looks amazing, and it’s not even Barclays Center’s most famous feature. That would be the Jay-Z–inspired Champagne room called the Vault. The Vault is the exclusive club within the exclusive club that has eleven suites that cost $550,000 a year (with a three-year minimum purchase) but have no view of the court. (You do get eight tickets in the first ten rows for every Barclays Center event, were you to choose to actually leave your suite and use them.) Those luxury chandeliers, you can see them from the street. They’re ready.

The Atlantic Yards–Barclays Center project has been so tortured, controversial, drawn-out, and infuriating in the making that it’s easy to forget that the building itself is real: that the project is not just happening, it’s almost completed. The staff of the Brooklyn (that’s right, Brooklyn) Nets has already moved into spiffy offices in Metrotech (just two buildings down from the much-maligned real-estate developer Bruce Ratner’s offices in the complex he built), and the arena itself is already open for private tours to prospective luxury-box season-ticket holders and sponsors. You can already buy tickets to see Barbra Streisand, Bob Dylan, or Justin Bieber. This is no longer a public debate, or a public outrage, or a theoretical construct, or an example of private might overcoming public interest. That battle is over, and Bruce Ratner won it. It is now part of the new Brooklyn reality. It is the centerpiece of how the borough, and the city, will be seen for generations to come. It is undeniably here.

So, now what?