The Pacific St. Edition of ‘What’s in a Name?’By
When it comes to names, New Yorkers are very possessive and adverse to change. A few years ago, some subway conductors starting adding “Top of the Rock” to their announcement at Rockefeller Center, and the corporate addition drew more than a few eyebrows. New Yorkers object to the placement of NYU’s name at the Christopher St. and 8th St. subway stops, and the Mets still play at Shea Stadium.
Nothing though has generated more angst than the corporate naming rights deal at the former Atlantic Ave.-Pacific St. subway stop. For $200,000 a year for 20 years, Barclays has appended the name of its sponsored arena to the station, and Transit has dropped poor neglected Pacific St. Although the arena doesn’t open until month’s end, the station signage has been updated, and the IRT FIND displays are sporting some decidedly low tech decals. Even as protest t-shirts spring up, the station is now, for better or worse, Atlantic Ave.-Barclays Center.
But is Pacific St. supposed to have been left to the dustbins of history? Tough to say, says Norman Oder in a recent post at his Atlantic Yards Report. Noting that the signage wasn’t supposed to debut until the arena actually opened, Oder questions the MTA’s handling of the name change:
It turns out, when the $200,000-a-year deal was approved 6/24/09, the MTA board was told of a different plan. As the … meeting transcript shows, then-CFO Gary Dellaverson stated, “[E]ven though it appears to be a single station, of course it is in essence two different stations and there is two different names, and, it will be Atlantic/Barclays Arena and the Pacific Street Barclays Arena. So that is how it would be named.”
…Dellaverson has left the MTA, and agency spokesman Adam Lisberg says staff aren’t sure why he said it. “Folks here now believe that it was always intended to be Atlantic Avenue-Barclays Center,” he told me. The Pacific Street platform still has the name in a “beautiful mosaic [below], and we’re certainly not going to go in and chisel it out,” Lisberg said. Otherwise, the identifier is vanishing…
What’s the rationale? “If the sign on the map says Atlantic-Barclays,” said Lisberg, the sign at the station should match it. “Three names gets too long. Shorter is better.” “The decision to shorten it to ‘Atlantic-Barclays’ was made by the MTA purely for reasons of brevity and clarity, not as part of a conscious decision to commodify public space,” he added, in response to my suggestion that some people are concerned about such commodification. “For commuters, people reading the maps, for tourists… taking it to a concert, calling the station by two names instead of three is much simpler,” Lisberg added.
As Oder notes, the signs weren’t supposed to be revealed until the “Beneficial Use of the Subway Entrance is achieved.” In non-legalese, that essentially means that the date of the name change should have been the date the new subway entrance is available for public use. That clearly hasn’t happened yet. The signage, however, has changed, and the pre-recorded announcements trumpet “Atlantic Ave.-Barclays Center.” Consider it a few months of free advertising.
So the question I circle back around time and again concerns Pacific St. Should we mourn Pacific St.? While Lisberg noted to Oder that the Atlantic/Pacific complex is, technically, two different stations, that distinction has been lost to history since free transfers were instituted in 1967. Meanwhile, Pacific St. is a rather easy street to miss. Despite running parallel to Atlantic Ave., it’s not a destination; it’s quiet residential street. Anyone bound for Atlantic Ave. is far more likely to be looking for station’s namesake, the arena, 4th Ave. or Flatbush. It’s a name that could go without much fanfare, absent a naming rights controversy.
Yet, for the MTA to get it right with respect to naming rights, the authority can’t sacrifice the system’s identity. As I’ve said before, the new name can be appended to the old and should involve a reason — but not necessarily the reason — for traveling to such a station. It isn’t clear if the MTA gave away too much in renaming Atlantic Ave.-Pacific St., but dropping Pacific St. hasn’t gone over too well.