PROSPECT HEIGHTS — It's tip off time, Brooklyn.
The long-awaited and much debated Barclays Center made its public debut Friday at a ribbon cutting where beaming officials heralded the arena's arrival as a historic day, ushering in an era of world-class sports and entertainment that will bring new opportunity to the borough.
"This is going to send a loud and clear message that Brooklyn has arrived as a center of exciting entertainment, thrilling big-time sports, and thriving commerce," said Mayor Michael Bloomberg. "This really is a great day for Brooklyn and a great day for New York City."
A jubilant Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz praised developer Bruce Ratner of Forest City Ratner Companies for seeing the decade-long project through multiple legal challenges and a tanking economy. He noted that the arena will provide nearly 2,000 jobs for local residents, many of whom were recruited from public housing developments.
"These are exactly the kind of jobs we need to help break the cycle of poverty and give these folks the chance to reach the zenith of their God-given potential," Markowitz said.
Markowitz also praised the affordable housing that's slated to be built at the $5 billion Atlantic Yards development surrounding the Barclays Center. Ratner said a groundbreaking ceremony will be held Dec. 18 for the first of the residential buildings at Atlantic Yards, a 350-unit tower where half the apartments will be "middle income" and "affordable," Ratner said.
Protesters who say Ratner hasn't lived up to his promises of jobs and affordable housing gathered outside, some wearing giant bobblehead style masks mocking Markowitz, Bloomberg and Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
Among the demonstrators was Park Slope resident Isabel Hill, who said she's been fighting Atlantic Yards since it was announced in 2003. Hilton, an urban planner, said she was so dismayed by the development that she made a documentary to educate the public about what she sees as its negative effects.
"It's tragic for Brooklyn," Hilton said. "I continue to feel this project is not right for Brooklyn and not right for New York City, and that we all know that it's going to have huge impacts that are not positive."
Also outside the new arena were hundreds of curious locals who craned their necks to get a glimpse from barricades set up to keep the public out as hundreds of reporters toured the shiny new facility.
"This is historic here," said smiling 53-year-old bus driver Vincent Miles. "We remember this place when it was virtually nothing. Now we've built this place that's going to bring prestige and people back to the borough. Whoever thought that Brooklyn would have a major sports team?"
The 18,000-seat arena will be the home of the Brooklyn Nets NBA team and a venue for big-name performers including Jay-Z, Justin Bieber, Barbra Streisand and Bob Dylan. The Barclays Center will kick off its concert schedule Sept. 28 with a Jay-Z concert.