Volume 73, Number 6 | June 9 - 15, 2004



Cheers and jeers for stadium at City Council hearing

By Albert Amateau

West Side residents and elected officials gathered on the sunny steps of City Hall while union members and New York Jets employees rallied in the shade under the trees of City Hall Park on Thursday before the City Council hearing on the proposed stadium for the New York Jets and an expanded Javits Convention Center.

In the Council Chamber on June 3, the union members on one side of the aisle cheered the stadium while West Side residents hooted on the other side. Every seat was filled, including the balcony.

Councilmember James Sanders of Queens, head of the Council’s Economic Development Committee, threatened to eject any noisy demonstrators but he didn’t. Although the hearing was orderly, there were frequent outbursts.

Boos of derision greeted Deputy Mayor Dan Doctoroff when he insisted that the overwhelming traffic impact of the stadium expected by opponents was a myth. More jeers came when Jay Cross, president of the Jets football team, referred to a glowing economic analysis for the stadium by the accounting firm of Ernst & Young.

The city and state also relied on Ernst & Young data for their conclusions that the stadium — officially named the New York Sports and Convention Center — would bring considerable financial benefits to the city, which prompted critical questions from Councilmember Christine Quinn and some of her colleagues.

Doctoroff and Charles Gargano, head of the New York State agency that plans to build the 75,000-seat stadium, justified using data commissioned by the Jets, saying Ernst & Young is a responsible and reputable company. “We evaluated their numbers and drew our own conclusions,” Gargano said.

“Certainly, but Arthur Anderson was a reputable firm at one time,” said Eric Gioia, a councilmember from Queens, referring to the accounting firm that went out of business last year in the wake of the Enron accounting scandal.

On the City Hall steps before the hearing, Quinn, who represents Chelsea, Clinton and part of the Village, vowed to fight the stadium — which is opposed by most neighborhood groups — saying it would entail inappropriate use of public funds for private use and would not benefit anyone but the Jets

“We’ll go to court to stop the stadium if we have to,” said Quinn. Councilmember Leticia James of Brooklyn, who is fighting a proposal to build a Nets basketball arena in her Brooklyn district, also declared her opposition to the West Side stadium.

Said Assemblymember Richard Gottfried, “You won’t find an economist that’s not hired by the Jets who will say that the stadium would benefit the convention center or the city.” Councilmember Alan J. Gerson also declared himself opposed to the stadium.

Protestors wearing black anti-stadium T-shirts waved signs saying, “Schools, not a Stadium,” “We Need Affordable Housing Not a Stadium.” Construction and hotel workers wore blue T-shirts that said, “Build It.” The union mantra was “We Need Jobs.”

Dave Smith, 85, former president of the Penn South Co-op in Chelsea, epitomized local sentiment. “If they would use this money for education and affordable housing instead of a stadium it would go a long way to keeping the city strong and preserving the neighborhood,” Smith said.

Stuart Waldman, a West Village activist, said he joined the protest as a taxpayer. “It’s not a NIMBY issue, it’s a NIMBP issue — Not In My Back Pocket,” Waldman said. Traffic also worries him. “What if a Sunday matinee on Broadway breaks at the same time a Jets game is over?” Waldman asked.

The City Council will have only an indirect role in the stadium, which is a New York State project, so the six-hour hearing was not part of an official Council review. But the rezoning necessary for the stadium and for the $2.77 billion Hudson Yards redevelopment — roughly between 28th and 43rd Sts. west of Eighth Ave. — will be subject to City Council review and approval. The Hudson Yards plan includes extension of the No. 7 subway to 10th Ave., and the northern expansion of the Javits Convention Center to 43rd St.

Doctoroff and Jay Cross said the expense of the Sports and Convention Center ($800 million from the Jets and $600 million from the city and the state) was justified because the project is to be more than a football stadium. With a retractable dome, it would be used for year-round activity, including large-scale events, convention center exhibition space and, if New York City gets the nod for the 2012 games, an Olympic stadium.

Doctoroff also noted that Cablevision, the owner of Madison Sq. Garden, is opposed to the stadium and has given financial support to New York ABC [Association for Better Choice], an anti-stadium organization.

John Tisch, president of NYC and Co., the city’s tourist promotion agency, and Peter Ward, president of the Hotel and Restaurant Workers Union, also testified in favor of the stadium.

Queens councilmembers wanted to know why that borough was not chosen as the stadium site. Doctoroff replied that if it were built in Queens it would be only a football stadium, while the proposed Sports and Convention Center over the West Side rail yards would serve many functions. More to the point, the Jets would not invest $800 million anywhere but Manhattan, he said.

The deputy mayor’s stadium balance sheet estimates the city and state investment in the stadium would eventually leverage more than $70 million annually in revenues and new taxes and cost $42 million annually in interest, for a net profit of about $30 million.

But Walter Mankoff, chairperson of Community Board 4, whose district includes Chelsea and Clinton and encompasses the entire Hudson Yards redevelopment including the stadium, noted that the Independent Budget Office and the Federal Reserve Bank of New York have issued negative opinions about the stadium.

Mankoff testified that Community Board 4 opposes the stadium but is not against the city’s 2012 Olympic bid. The board, Mankoff added, is in favor of the northern expansion of the Javits Center. But the fact that neither the stadium nor its financing will be directly subject to public review is a major concern, Mankoff said.

A memorandum of understanding is being drafted by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (owner of the rail yards over which the stadium is to be built), the Jets and New York State. The M.O.U. will settle issues of rent, development rights and scheduling of non-football events at the Sports and Convention Center, Cross said.

Assemblymember Deborah Glick, State Senator Tom Duane and Congressmember Jerrold Nadler also submitted testimony opposed to the stadium. Community Board 1 last month expressed concern that the West Side redevelopment would divert funds from Lower Manhattan and passed a resolution recommending that the Hudson Yards and stadium project be deferred until the rebuilding of the World Trade Center site is complete.

On the same day as the City Hall hearing, Governor Pataki introduced legislation in Albany to allow $350 million in Battery Park City excess funds to be devoted to the Javits Center expansion. The funds would come from $600 million in excess Battery Park City revenue that has been earmarked since 1989 for affordable housing. But a provision in the 1989 agreement allowed the city to use the excess Battery Park City funds to “maintain fiscal stability…or existing city services.”

However, Doctoroff said at the Council hearing that the Battery Park City funds would finance only the northern expansion of the Javits Center, not the stadium. Moreover, use of the B.P.C. funds also requires approval by City Comptroller as well as the State Legislature, Doctoroff said.

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