Thursday, June 25, 2009

Atlantic Avenue/Pacific Street...Barclays Center?

I was stunned to learn that Brooklyn’s Atlantic-Pacific subway station, a giant underground maze that connects 10 different lines and the Long Island Railroad, is not even among the top ten busiest stations in the City (it ranks 29th in all of NYC with 9,643,487 riders in 2007). In fact, it’s not even the busiest in Brooklyn—that’s Court Street/Borough Hall, which connects only six lines.

No, the busiest stations in New York City are all in Manhattan, and “busy” is measured simply by how many riders pass through the turnstiles. Times Square is the busiest station, with 58,506,230 riders in 2007 on its 12 lines.

Measured by how many lines run through a single station however, Atlantic-Pacific is number two in size. This is what gave me the impression that it was so busy, and of course transfers from line to line -- certainly a logical measurement of busy-ness -- aren't accounted for in the turnstile figures.

All of these thoughts ran through my head as I learned yesterday that Barclays, a London bank that I know nothing about, bought the rights to name the Atlantic-Pacific station from the MTA. Barclays bought Lehman Brothers last year, so their U.S. holdings are growing, but the bank does not have a Brooklyn office. The MTA, which has apparently trying to sell off the names of its stations for years, convinced the bank to buy the station name because it had already bought the rights to name the proposed New Jersey Nets basketball arena near the stop in Brooklyn.

But as the architecture blog BLDG BLOG points out, the $4 million, $200,000/year for 20 years price tag is awfully low. As a measure of how many eyes will see the name, associate it with the bank, and see it as a sign of financial strength and legitimacy, the price seems modest. It seems like the MTA (which is dying for money and will be raising fares from $2 a ride to $2.25 as of June 28) could have asked for more. It is, after all, selling the name of a piece of public property to a private (and foreign) entity.

Blogger Jason Kottke points out that many stations already have brand names, some of them quite old:
Rockefeller Center
Columbia University
JFK Airport
Museum of Natural History
Lincoln Center
Hunter College
Yankee Stadium
Aqueduct Racetrack
Times Square
Herald Square
NY Aquarium
World Trade Center
Brooklyn Museum
It’s interesting to note though that when the New York Mets opened their new stadium, Citi Field (for which they will pay $400 million over 20 years), they passed on buying the nearby subway stop (which is currently called Mets/Willets Point).

Were it not for the difficulty the MTA has had in selling off station names (the Times says the MTA has been trying for five years), one would be concerned for all stations.

No one is saying yet what exactly the station will be called—maybe it’ll just be named after the basketball arena. Some have been speculating that the Barclays name will just be tacked onto the existing name, making it longer and more awkward.

I think what offends New Yorkers about the whole thing the most is the fleeting nature of stadium names and endorsement deals these days. To all Americans, it seems as capricious as new celebrity products (for example, rapper 50 Cent is coming out with his own cologne. The late Ed McMahon had a vodka.).

I remember when the Utah Jazz basketball arena was called the Delta Center, after the airline. As of late 2006, it’s called the EnergySolutions Arena. It changed when Delta decided to cancel their 15 years contract. EnergySolutions, which describes itself as “a world leader in the safe recycling, processing and disposal of nuclear material,” stepped in and apparently paid at least as much as the reported $1.3 million a year as Delta was shelling out. At the time, The New York Times reported that fans were already making fun of the new sponsors, coming up with nicknames for the arena like: The Glow Bowl, the Isotope, the Dump, ChernoBowl, JazzMat (“short for Jazzardous Materials”), the Big Bang, the Tox Box, the Fallout Shelter, and the Melta Center.

When these things are bought and sold like this, it lends an air of impermanence to what should be stable landmarks. But then, they don’t build arenas and stadiums like they used to.

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