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Stadium of Dreams

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The stadium’s opponents contend that, whatever arguments the Jets make now, once the stadium is built, they will have little incentive to use the building as an extension of the Javits Center, since convention business is far from lucrative—most convention centers around the country are subsidized in some way. “If the choice is booking convention business, which loses money,” says Hatch, “or booking Springsteen, it’s pretty clear what they’ll do.”

Cross, who played a key role in the construction of the American Airlines Arena in Miami and the Air Canada Centre in Toronto, argues that there are only a handful of events every year that can fill a 75,000-seat stadium anyway. He says they will compete for events like the Super Bowl, the Final Four, and college bowl games. As far as concerts go, he says that business is overrated. “If you look at the Meadowlands, they do maybe two concerts in a good year. Five in an extraordinary year,” he says. “Most acts play arenas in the winter and amphitheaters in the summer.”

Still, the Jets are not quite in sync with the city and state on how their agreement governing use of the facility will work. Both Doctoroff and Gargano say the Jets will be mandated to use the building for convention-style events a significant number of days a year. Cross has a different idea: “We’ll let the market determine what works in terms of use of the building.”

Even if you disregard all of the other arguments against building a stadium on the West Side, you are still left with one critical question. As one opponent put it to me, “How can you put a 75,000-seat stadium in one of the most congested parts of the most developed borough in the biggest city in the world?”

The Jets, of course, have an answer. They did a survey of their season-ticket holders, who on average have had their seats for ten years, and 70 percent said they would use public transportation if the games were on the West Side.

Critics believe this number is wildly inflated, and they cite a Madison Square Garden study that found that only 40 percent of the people attending games at the Garden on weekends used public transportation. And that building sits right on top of Penn Station and seven subway lines. Cross counters that the Garden study is old and it suits them to put those numbers out because of the Dolans’ position opposing the West Side stadium. Even so, he argues, if 70 percent of the fans take public transportation, that would still mean 7,000 cars. If only 50 percent leave their vehicles at home, that would mean 11,000 cars coming into Manhattan on Sunday afternoon—a fraction of the weekday numbers.

“Life is about trade-offs,” one insider says. “And the trade-off here is pretty clear. The city and state get to use someone else’s $800 million, and for that, there’ll be traffic and congestion for an hour before the games and an hour and a half after the games, eight or ten times a year on a Sunday afternoon.”

The process by which the stadium is going forward, while somewhat more democratic than that employed by Robert Moses, stops short of being entirely transparent. The stadium will be built on state-owned land controlled by the MTA, highly circumscribing any role for the City Council.

The MTA and the city will have to reach an agreement on the value of the air and development rights over the rail yards. The MTA will essentially sell these rights to the city. This is no small issue. Some experts say these rights could be worth as much as a billion dollars over 25 years. It is money the MTA desperately needs, and any deal that appears to shortchange the authority could spark a huge public outcry.

Total costs for the rest of the project, which includes a second platform over the eastern rail yards and nearly $2 billion for the No. 7 train extension, could exceed $4 billion. For this, Doctoroff has come up with a clever financing instrument that enables him to bypass most legislative review. Bonds will be issued through a newly created authority called the Hudson Yards Infrastructure Corporation, and about $1 billion of the debt will be backed by another government body, the Transitional Finance Authority.

The TFA was created by Giuliani to enable the city to issue more debt than is constitutionally permitted. It has been used by mayors Giuliani and Bloomberg during times of financial crisis. Here, the council does have some control. The area has to be rezoned to allow for Doctoroff’s planned high-rise office development. Without the development, there’s no revenue generated to pay back the bonds. “Using the TFA as a credit enhancer is very clever,” says former MTA chairman Richard Ravitch. “It circumvents the capital-budget process. Dan would say it will all get repaid, but I’m not so confident. I think this funding is very risky.”

Ravitch says he has refrained from commenting on such issues, because he hated being second-guessed when he was in government. But he believes this issue is so important he had to speak out. “I think there’s a massive exposure for the city here and no appropriate legislative review. People are worried, but no one wants to be accused of killing the Olympics.”

If the projections are wrong, taxpayers would be left holding the bag; the city’s ability to borrow money could be affected for years. Doctoroff says it’s a risk worth taking. “We’ve got three of the leading investment banks in the area of public financing onboard,” he says, “and we’ve made the numbers available. There are six sources of repayment, and it’s all been modeled out in great detail.”

Ravitch is not convinced. He says that if the stadium is being built for the Olympics, then why not wait until next July to see if New York is selected before putting shovels in the ground? “What’s the rush?” he asks rhetorically. “The rush is because the Jets want construction to begin before the IOC decision. And if we’re doing this for the Jets and not the Olympics, we should say that so politicians can feel free to voice opposition without worrying that they’re hurting the city’s Olympic chances.”

Still, says Doctoroff: “If the Olympics were not in the picture, there’s not a single thing in the West Side plan I would change.”

Doctoroff is still optimistic about New York’s chances in the Olympic lottery. “I know the competition is fierce among the five cities,” he says. “But I wouldn’t have kept at this for the last ten years if I didn’t think we have a very good shot.”

There are those who believe that, in the end, even if New York doesn’t get the Games, the effort will still have lasting significance. “Dan’s major contribution is telling the story of New York as the world’s second home and how we have successfully created a diverse but united community,” says NYU president John Sexton, a member of the NYC2012 planning committee. “And he’s thinking about how we make the city a better place 25 or 50 years from now.”

Of course, Doctoroff himself already has one foot in that new city. He believes his own rhetoric, and he argues his case with the passion of a new convert. Possibly, he’s more salesman than builder, more Professor Harold Hill in The Music Man than Robert Moses in The Power Broker. But in this environment, to get anything built requires that simpleminded fervor. “At the end of your life,” he says, “you want to be able to look back and feel like you made a difference.”


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