Volume 74, Number 9 | June 30 - July 6, 2004

Stadium is thrown for a loss over a financing bill

By Albert Amateau

The city and state drive to build a 75,000-seat stadium over the West Side rail yards stalled last week when a state Assembly committee refused to back a financing bill for the Javits Convention Center expansion unless it dropped all possible references to the stadium.

The setback cheered West Side residents who packed a June 21 hearing conducted by Assemblymember Richard Brodsky of Westchester on the financing bill. Residents from the Village to Clinton supported by their elected officials fear the proposed stadium would create overwhelming traffic problems in an already congested area.

Members of the committee, including Assemblymembers Richard Gottfried and Deborah Glick, said the bill, presented by the city and state to finance the Javits Center expansion, contained loopholes that would also authorize the operation of the stadium, designed to serve as the home of the Jets football team as well as for Convention Center uses.

“This is not what I’d characterize as a clean bill,” Brodsky told Deputy Mayor Dan Doctoroff, the prime mover of the city-sponsored Hudson Yards redevelopment and the stadium, and Anita Laremont, counsel to the state Empire State Development Corp., at the June 21 hearing.

An alternative bill, which Laremont and Doctoroff said deleted references to the stadium, also found disfavor with West Side elected officials, who said that stadium loopholes remained.

The end of the state legislative session on June 23 meant the matter was dead, at least until the Legislature reconvenes in early July to act on unfinished business, including the budget — delayed for the 20th consecutive year — in addition to the Javits expansion.

“We have to make it clear that the Javits Center expansion has nothing to do with a stadium,” Gottfried said last week. He added that State Senator Joseph Bruno, Republican leader of the State Senate, has indicated that he too would support a Javits Center expansion as long as there was no reference to a stadium.

In Glick’s view, financing the stadium could jeopardize the city and state effort to rebuild Lower Manhattan. She agreed that the alternative financing bill had language authorizing the operation of a stadium.

While financing the stadium would eventually require legislation, state and city officials insist that construction of stadium, to be built on a platform above the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s West Side rail yards, requires neither legislation nor review. It only requires assent by the M.T.A., according to state and city officials.

“I gather you don’t need legislation to build the stadium, but you need legislation to operate it,” said Brodsky at the June 21 hearing, drawing laughter from the West Side residents who dominated the audience at the Fashion Institute of Technology. Doctoroff, however, replied, “We don’t even need legislation to operate it. We need the legislation to make it work as part of the convention center.”

Virtually everyone supports the northward expansion of the Javits Center, but opposition to the stadium is growing. The Regional Plan Association, comprised of architects and planners, and the city’s Independent Budget Office, have written critical reports of the stadium. More predictably, the New York Public Interest Research Group, which includes the Straphangers Campaign, came out against the stadium.

Gerald Schoenfeld, head of the Schubert Organization and the League of Broadway Theaters, testified on June 21 that the stadium’s disruption of the West Side threatens 26,000 Broadway theater jobs.

Richard Ravitch, a former chairperson of the M.T.A., speaking individually, declared at the hearing that the stadium could start the slide “down the slippery slope that led to the 1970s crisis” for the authority that runs the city and regional transit system. “Is the M.T.A. going to get full value for its property? Or is the bill going to involve the M.T.A. and the public transit system in the debt for the stadium?” Ravitch asked.

Supporters of the stadium, for which the Jets would contribute $800 million, say it would be used as a football stadium for 17 days a year at the most. The rest of the year it would serve as an adjunct to the convention center. Opponents, however, question the propriety of devoting city and state money — estimated at $600 million — for what they contend is really a private-sector enterprise.

Among the objectionable aspects of the convention center financing bill is a provision that any legal challenge would skip the State Supreme Court and go directly to the Appellate Division. That provision is designed to expedite legal proceedings in connection with the Javits expansion.

While Gottfried and Glick agree that they might support a provision to fast-track legal challenges, they insist that State Supreme Court, the state’s basic trial court, must not be skipped. “It would be absurd for any case to go to the Appellate Division before there’s anything to appeal from,” observed Dan Golob, an aide to Gottfried.

A group of environmental organizations, including the Natural Resources Defense Council, the League of Conservation Voters, the Atlantic Chapter of the Sierra Club. The Tri-State Transportation Campaign, Environmental Defense and Environmental Advocates, issued a June 17 statement against the proposal to skip State Supreme Court in any judicial review of the convention center expansion.

Walter Mankoff, chairperson of Community Board 4 whose district includes the West Side rail yards as well as the Javits center and the Hudson Yard redevelopment area, said the board supports an expansion of the Javits center. But he reiterated the board’s long-standing opposition to the stadium.

“Adding traffic to that already coming from the West Side Highway, Lincoln Tunnel and the Port Authority Bus Terminal, a stadium will bring traffic nightmares when it is in use,” Mankoff said. “When not in use,” he added, “the stadium area will be desolated and will discourage badly needed commercial and residential development.”


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