Gregg Pasquarelli, an architect on the project, said that a primary goal of the design had been to integrate the large structure with the surrounding community by encouraging passers-by to peer inside the building, go shopping in its storefronts and relax in its large outdoor plaza.
It's a message of welcome that's not reciprocated by all. Protesters handed out fliers outside the arena on Friday, criticizing officials for their use of eminent domain and questioning whether all the promised jobs and affordable housing units originally slated to accompany the development would materialize. Community opposition and litigation have plagued the project for nearly a decade, since the project was first announced in 2003.
The city is banking on Brooklynites' deep-rooted sense of borough pride to win over new fans. And the championship-hungry Nets are hoping their new Brooklyn home will turn the tide for a franchise that has been largely overshadowed by the New York Knicks.
But gone are the days when sports allegiances were dictated by geography alone. Brooklyn is a tight-knit borough no more: It is a deeply diverse community of many nationalities and income brackets.
Large swaths of Brooklyn are actually starting to look a whole lot like Manhattan. The borough of about 2.5 million residents draws its own share of tourists who want to stroll down Brooklyn Heights' charming brownstone-lined streets or shop in Williamsburg's chic boutiques.
Celebrities live in Brooklyn now. It is home to fashionable hipsters and upscale beer gardens and well-heeled mothers pushing expensive baby strollers down the street. Brooklyn is no longer just a place to live — it's a place to visit.
"Brooklyn had an image as the underdog upstarts, which the Dodgers exemplified," said Henry Fetter, author of "Taking on the Yankees: Winning and Losing in the Business of Baseball." ''I think Brooklyn no longer has that image. And the Nets don't necessarily exemplify that."
At the end of the day, as the wins pile up, the fans will follow. A new generation of Brooklyn children will grow up with the Nets, just as their grandparents and great-grandparents grew up with the Dodgers. But fans are a more fickle species nowadays.
A group of young men shooting hoops across the street from Ebbets Field Apartments vowed to remain loyal to the Knicks, despite being born and raised in Brooklyn.
"If they had Dwight Howard, they would've been the team of New York," said 23-year-old Mario Volcin. "They would've been the best team of New York. The Nets don't really have enough pieces."
In a winner-take-all kind of town, being second-best just doesn't cut it. And as any Dodgers fan would tell you, old loyalties die hard. But even the old-timers are willing to give this new team a chance.
"I can't see this as atonement. Too many years have gone by for that," said Schweiger, the historian. "But I definitely intend to go to a bunch of the games. In fact, I already have a Brooklyn Nets T-shirt."
Associated Press writer Samantha Gross contributed to this report.
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