Volume 74, Number 40 | February 9 - 15, 2005

EDITORIAL

A stadium referendum is required

Cablevision’s recent offer to buy the Hudson Yards development rights for $600 million was immediately dismissed by Mayor Bloomberg as “a stunt.” However, on the face of it, that Cablevision is offering hundreds of millions more than the Jets for the property should not be brushed off as a stunt — certainly not in the minds of New York City straphangers concerned about fare hikes.

Under the deal for an Olympic/Jets football West Side stadium that the Bloomberg administration is pushing for the property, we are not confident that the Metropolitan Transportation Authority is maximizing the value of its property with its recent $300 million estimate. Let’s not forget the Mis-estimation Authority’s recent exaggeration of the agency’s short-term budget shortfall to push through a fare hike.

Governor Pataki, who picks the M.T.A. leaders, is a strong proponent of the stadium and, as such, has incentive to pressure the agency to cut the city a good deal on the air rights.

The city and especially the state have not given the M.T.A. nearly enough money for needed capital projects or to keep the subway fare at $2, so the property’s air-rights price tag is crucial and must not be undersold. The M.T.A.’s $300 million estimate might turn out to be accurate, but that figure can’t be trusted unless it is tested against some sort of open bidding process, as has been suggested by some of the mayor’s likely opponents this fall. At least two of them, former Bronx Borough President Fernando Ferrer and City Council Speaker Gifford Miller, have called for a voters’ referendum to decide whether a stadium makes sense on the West Side.

A referendum makes sense to us, too. Let the mayor take to the voters his case that the $600 million public stadium subsidy will be small compared to the added tax revenues. And let the stadium opponents make their arguments, which sound credible to us — namely that the financial assumptions of the stadium plan seem speculative; the new Midtown office buildings needed to finance the stadium threaten Lower Manhattan’s redevelopment; the predicted traffic and congestion problems are significant; and the M.T.A. can’t afford to get below market value for its assets.

Currently, stadium negotiations have moved to Albany, where Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, an effective advocate for Lower Manhattan, holds the key vote. The public would be better served if Silver supported the referendum effort and let New Yorkers decide what is best.

Particularly unsettling was Deputy Mayor Dan Doctoroff’s statement that if Cablevision succeeds in the purchase, the city would block needed zoning changes for the property. Frankly, that’s using zoning as a weapon to eviscerate a competing proposal. Doctoroff has been the leading advocate for the Olympics coming to New York City in 2012 and, clearly, he has an overwhelming bias.

Both Cablevision’s and the Jets’ offers need to be vetted for financial soundness. Beyond that, we’d like to see more parties bid on the Hudson Yards property — so that the M.T.A. gets full fair market value in this deal and so the taxpayers don’t get socked in the pocket.

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