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Stadium of Dreams

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The Dolans’ ad says the $600 million the city would have to invest in the stadium could be used to rebuild schools, put a computer in every classroom, or open firehouses. “So here’s the choice,” the ad says. “Invest $600 million in neighborhoods, or spend it on a West Side stadium for the Jets.” (As it happens, in the ten years the Dolans have owned the Garden, they have paid no real-estate taxes—essentially an $80 million subsidy.)

The ad has ignited an air war, with the Jets launching their own TV salvo this week, pointing out the Dolans’ less-than-pure motives. But the Dolans are far from the stadium’s only opponents. Peter Solomon, who was a deputy mayor in the early Koch years and who gave Doctoroff his first job after law school, at Lehman Brothers, might be expected to support it. Instead, he’s on the fence. “I’m not at all sure it’s a good idea,” says Solomon. “Support for the stadium is really thin, and I told Dan he has to make the case why this is the only solution. Why the Jets won’t move elsewhere.”

Doctoroff doesn’t have his own ad campaign—yet—but this is his case: There are six critical pieces to the West Side development: the stadium, the Javits Center expansion, the platform over the eastern section of the rail yards, rezoning to allow for greater density, parks and open space, and the extension of the No. 7 train. Remove any one of these elements, which Doctoroff argues work together and feed off one another, and it would be like pulling a piston out of an engine. Everything grinds to a halt.

His argument for the stadium is fairly simple: It literally fills a void. The rail yards form an enormous, gaping hole that has to be filled with something. Otherwise, it will be impossible to attract any private-sector money (not to mention people) to the area. In fact, there are two holes. The one where the stadium will be built is between Eleventh Avenue and the highway and runs from 30th Street to 33rd. The other, often referred to as the eastern rail yards, and the one Doctoroff envisions as a six-acre park, is between Tenth and Eleventh avenues.

In Doctoroff’s admittedly controversial analysis, the stadium, which will be a multipurpose facility that serves as an adjunct to the Javits Center, is a no-brainer. “This is clearly the best use of the space. We are talking about a building that will be in use every day of the year,” Doctoroff says. “We will fill the area with activity. There’ll be conventions and shows and theaters and parks. The building alone will have five restaurants and 40,000 square feet of retail space. Ask the Guggenheim if they’d have any interest in going there if what would be next to them is empty space.”

One of the most common arguments against the stadium is that football is played too infrequently. But Doctoroff says the building will be used for more than just Jets games. He even steadfastly refuses to refer to it as a stadium and chastises those who do. “It is the New York Sports and Convention Center,” he snaps—in spite of the fact that the Jets will own the building.

“The idea is to fill it with life all year round. That’s what will bring investment to the area,” Doctoroff says. “If you took the stadium out of the plan, the neighborhood would remain dormant for a very long time.”

Inspiration for the plan comes partly from the construction of Grand Central Terminal, which was built on a platform over the open rail yards on what is now Park Avenue. The new properties created on both sides of the avenue were sold to pay for the construction and developed as hotels and office space.

A phalanx of towers is one thing. A stadium is quite another. “Stadiums are dead zones,” says Brian Hatch, a former deputy mayor of Salt Lake City who was involved in that city’s Olympic effort and is now a galvanizing force for opposition to the stadium. “It’s feast or famine with these facilities. There’s either no one there or there are tens of thousands of people flooding the area.”

“Is this the best project?” asks Gargano. “I haven’t seen anything better. The city gets its stadium, we get the Javits, and $800 million in private investment is hard to pass up.”

Hatch, who moved to New York four years ago and is a consultant on municipal issues, had a kind of unofficial advisory role on the New York Olympic effort (he’d talk to Doctoroff once a month) until he decided to oppose the stadium. “There’s no first-class neighborhood anywhere that’s anchored by a stadium.”

Four and a half years ago, Rudy Giuliani very publicly invited the Jets to move to a new stadium on the West Side in his State of the City speech. It was January, and Woody Johnson, the great-grandson of one of the founders of Johnson & Johnson, had just bought the team. Everyone knew the Harley-riding, philanthropic Republican fund-raiser from New Jersey had paid a lot of money for the team and would have to find additional sources of revenue—like a new stadium—to make his investment work. (The team’s lease at the Meadowlands is up in 2008.)

At the same time, Doctoroff was moving ahead with his Olympic proposal, which had identified the West Side as the place to put a stadium, one that would have to have a purpose when the Olympics moved away. He had seen the Jets’ sales memo prepared by Goldman Sachs; the Jets’ needs and his matched perfectly.

But, of course, there’s another party to the deal: the public. The total cost of the stadium is $1.4 billion. The Jets have committed $800 million to the project; the city and state will have to split the remaining $600 million. For their investment, the Jets get ownership of the building and all of the responsibilities and rewards that come with it. They will also insure the city and state against construction-cost overruns and sign a 49-year land lease with the state.

“Giving a $600 million subsidy to a sports team in a time of fiscal crisis, when the city and state have serious infrastructure needs, is beyond outrageous,” says Dan Golub, spokesman for Assemblyman Richard Gottfried, one of the project’s leading opponents.

Many say the Jets are getting a sweetheart deal. Everyone knows municipalities all over the country have been hoodwinked over and over again into spending precious public funds to make already-rich owners of sports teams even richer. It’s a given that owners as a group have replaced (not undeservedly) the mustache-twirling, mortgage-foreclosing banker as the cartoon villain everyone loves to hate.

But Doctoroff argues that the Jets are hardly getting a free ride. The $600 million public investment covers $375 million to build a platform over the rail yards and $225 million for a retractable roof. In order to build anything over the rail yards, they have to be covered with a platform. By this logic, the $375 million is not a gift but a necessary expense to turn the rail yards into a developable site.

The argument for the retractable roof is more complex: The Jets want to play in an open-air facility; the roof is what makes the stadium a multiuse building. The bill for this is $225 million—so, by this argument, $225 million of public money is being used to attract $800 million of private investment.


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