Larry Silverstein’s Got 99 Problems, But Jay-Z Ain’t One

Commercial Observer

The Sit-Down
Larry Silverstein’s Got 99 Problems, But Jay-Z Ain’t One
"It doesn't make any sense to me. Why this language? It was horrendous language. Look, I’m 81 years of age, so I can’t relate to that. It’s impossible. But I did appreciate him enormously as a performer..."
By Daniel Edward Rosen 10/04 5:32pm

Hip hop impresario Jay-Z kicked off the opening of Forest City Ratner’s Barclays Center with a series of eight sold-out concerts last week. And while thousands of rap and pop music fans descended on Brooklyn to welcome Hova back to his native borough, more surprising, perhaps, were the boldface real estate titans who lined up as guests of Bruce Ratner to witness the spectacle. Besides Dan Tishman of Tishman Construction and Vornado Realty Trust’s Michael Fascitelli and Steven Roth, Mary Ann Tighe of CBRE described the evening as electric. “The only Jay-Z song I recognized is his New York song, which he performed early in the show,” wrote Ms. Tighe, who added in an email to The Commercial Observer that she also enjoyed the arena’s menu of Brooklyn-based restaurants. “Best arena/stadium food ever,” she wrote.

Perhaps the one attendee who was most impressed with the Barclays Center and its booming sound system, however, was Larry Silverstein, the iconic developer behind the ongoing redevelopment of the World Trade Center. Mr. Silverstein revealed his first impressions of the Barclays Center with The Commercial Observer and shared his opinions on Jay-Z and the venue’s body-shaking bass system.

The Commercial Observer: So a tipster told us they saw you at the Jay-Z show last Friday.
Mr. Silverstein: We attended the concert Friday night, and it was a transformational experience.

Really? How so?
Well, first of all, I have never experienced anything like this before in my life, and I have only been around for 81 years. In fairness, I am not used to going to these concerts. These rap concerts or this type of music, I am [not] an ardent fan. I am on the board of the New York Philharmonic, and classical music is my thing, so this was extraordinarily different by way of an experience for me.

Why did you go?
The only reason why I went is… well, two reasons, really. Number one is Bruce Ratner extended the invitation to my wife and to myself to go out there. As it turns out, my wife said, ‘why don’t you take one your granddaughters?’ I wanted to take both of them. As it turns out, one of them could make it and the other one couldn’t.

I called [his granddaughter Arielle] and I said, ‘sweetheart, would you like to go?’ She said, ‘I would love it! That would be fantastic!’ But she said, ‘would you be able to handle this?’ I said, ‘what’s the big deal?’ She said, ‘well, the music is very loud.’ I said, ‘so I’ll bring an earplug or two, it’s no big deal.’

She said, ‘the other thing is the vibration is going to go right through your body. Do you think you can handle it?’ I said ‘how bad can that be?’
Little did I appreciate the experience that was before me.

Before we get into that, did you manage to see Bruce Ratner while there?
Once we went and got in there– of course we saw Bruce Ratner and so forth, and I congratulated him because he’s done an incredible job. All of New York blesses this man, or should bless him, because what the impact that this will have on the borough of Brooklyn and therefore the city of New York as a whole, is just hugely beneficial. It is so positive. The fact that he’s only been at it for 10-or-11 years of his life under extremely difficult circumstances, so I came by and I saw Bruce and I said, ‘Bruce, you’re crazy!’ He said, ‘yeah, not as crazy as you are.’

The truth of the matter is the only way something like this gets done is if you simply close your eyes to everything else and decide to focus exclusively on this project. I got to tell you, that’s what I had to do, and it’s the only reason that we’re able to get through this goddamn thing for the last 11 years, and Bruce had to go through the same thing. It was a pulverizing experience.

Back to the concert itself. How was the “experience” for you?
Friday night I thought it was quite spectacular. The sound level, I mean, I didn’t appreciate it until some disc jockey came on and oh my God…

I started popping [in] the ear plugs as fast as I could pop them in. I popped them in and one on the top of another on top of another. But nothing helped! It was the damnedest thing. Nothing helped, right?

So I realized, jeez, another few minutes of this [and] I’ll be deaf for the rest of my life. Then the music started, and oh my God, the vibration! This was unlike any experience I’ve ever had. It was powerful, really powerful stuff. So there we were in this great location, we had the best seats in the house. I said, ‘I got to find a place where it’s not so loud.’ So we ended up in a box and guess what, the vibration was just as loud, and the sound level was just as loud. I couldn’t get away from it! I thought ‘it’s gotta be better in the Men’s room, it’s gotta be.’ I went to the Men’s room and guess what? No better. How do you last? How do you last? Then of course Jay-Z comes on and oh jeez.

How did you last?
The concert was supposed to start at 8:00 p.m. 9:45 p.m. is when it started. By 10:00, 10:30, I’m usually getting ready to go to bed. My granddaughter is sitting there with me and she said, ‘Poppy, are you going to be all right with this?’ I said, ‘I may be deaf when I walk out of here, but I want to stay for a little bit, so let’s see what it’s like.’ As it turns out, we watched Jay-Z perform and I thought it was fascinating. First of all, he’s a superb performer, really a first-class performer, and he controlled that audience so beautifully. But he worked them up into a frenzy, because first he talked about the fact that he was born, what, three blocks away from the stadium, and the area was nothing like what it is today. He said, ‘frankly, I am so fortunate to be here, I am so fortunate to make it out of that, and to be able to come through all this and to be here today and to be able to do this, and to recognize that we are doing this in Brooklyn, in the city of New York…’ The place went wild! I mean, 20,000 screaming fans went absolutely wild. I watched him control this, and I thought ‘good God, this guy is really superb.’ He’s a superb performer, and it was all by himself. I saw the video of the Monster Ball, Lady GaGa’s Monster Ball, and she’s got a cast of thousands. She has a whole entourage, dancers and musicians and the singers and you name it, all kinds of stuff. He was there by himself, and he handled it spectacularly well.

What didn’t you like about the concert?
Of course what I couldn’t appreciate was the language. Why does he have to use this? I couldn’t understand that. It doesn’t make any sense to me. Why this language? It was horrendous language. Look, I’m 81 years of age, so I can’t relate to that. It’s impossible. But I did appreciate him enormously as a performer, as an eminently successful businessman, and as someone who had enough humility to understand where he came from and the long road from where he started to where he is today. I really thought it was a uniquely wonderful experience, and I came away just hugely appreciative to Bruce for what he’s accomplished there, for all of us, all of New York.

Did you end up meeting Jay-Z?
We were invited to the party afterwards. The concert started at 9:45, so my hunch was that it will probably go to 11:45.

Then I said ‘by the time he gets downstairs and so forth, and probably gets to the 40/40 club by, what, 12:30?’ I asked [Arielle] ‘would you like to go?’ She said “Poppy, I don’t want to put you in this spot. It’s late enough. If you want to leave now, I am happy to leave.” This is [at] 10:45 p.m.

What was your impression of the Barclays Center itself?
I think it’s a beautifully-done arena. I think it’s going to be a concert hall that many will enjoy. Look at the bookings that he already has out there. I mean, the Barbra Streisand concert, for example. There’s all kind of good stuff coming. Let’s face it, until now, there’s been one venue, and that was Madison Square Garden. Now you have a second venue that is really spectacular and powerful and good, with first-class transportation right to the door. It’s a new opportunity here in New York, and a positive one.

You are a Brooklyn native yourself. Does that mean you will now start rooting for the Brooklyn Nets?
Well, honestly, I haven’t thought that far ahead [laughs]. Listen, this has such a great story to it, it’s hard not to appreciate it become a part [of the city].

Did you recognize any of Jay-Z’s songs?
No, not at all, or could I understand any of the lyrics. I couldn’t possibly understand the lyrics. The one thing that I could hear was the horrible language. I said to myself ‘why? Why is that necessary?’ I could never understand that.

Mary Ann Tighe thought the food at the Barclays Center was the best stadium food she’s ever had. Did you eat anything while there?
She’s in my conference room right now. So I came out to just chat with you. She said she was amazed, and the truth of the matter was I was concerned about that. I made sure we had dinner beforehand and then came [to the concert]. But then I was amazed, because the food looked lovely. It was wholesome, it was plentiful, well-presented, and obviously well-prepared and very tasteful.

What kind of food was it?
Oh, it was burgers and shrimps, you name it. It was a potpourri of things. You know, fingerfood that’s easy to eat. Pizza, it was really very well done. I take my hat off to him, because I think Jay-Z is going to have a very successful food venue here. It’s going to be first class, he’s going to do very well here.