De Niro and Weinstein Stick It to Giuliani by Heading to Yonkers

Robert De Niro and Miramax Films co-chairman Harvey Weinstein slipped quietly into a Lincoln Town Car not long ago and headed north along the Hudson River towards an old industrial complex on the Yonkers waterfront. There, on a 16-acre site alongside the Metro-North railroad, the actor and the mogul want to build a film studio that would include an immense soundstage in an abandoned cable factory building with sweeping views of the Palisades. The two men are in discussions with state officials, who are exploring ways of helping Messrs. De Niro and Weinstein launch the vast project.

As Mr. De Niro, Mr. Weinstein and an entourage strolled along the water, they took in the view of the New York City skyline, which shimmered to the south, beyond the George Washington Bridge. The significance of the moment wasn’t lost on the group. Nearly a year ago, the two men had stood on another waterfront with a view of the city’s skyline–the Brooklyn Navy Yard–and announced plans for a film studio. But that deal fell apart last fall, after Mayor Rudolph Giuliani enraged Messrs. De Niro and Weinstein by abruptly ousting them from the project and awarding it to a pair of Brooklyn entrepreneurs.

Mr. De Niro and Mr. Weinstein still are fuming over their treatment at the hands of City Hall. And so, as the group gazed at the city, the site seemed to offer more than just wonderful views. If they succeeded in building a studio outside city limits, it would be a satisfying end to a saga that many assumed was over when the Mayor humiliated them six months ago.

“They were clearly in love with the [new] site,” observed one person who is not part of the De Niro-Weinstein group but walked the waterfront with the two men. “But a studio here would clearly stick it up Rudy’s knickers.”

“This has nothing to do with the Mayor,” countered Jane Rosenthal, a co-founder and partner at Mr. De Niro’s TriBeCa Productions. “This is about building studios.”

At a recent press conference upstate, Gov. George Pataki confirmed that discussions were underway between state officials and Mr. De Niro’s group. Ms. Rosenthal would say only that the Governor’s remarks were correct.

After Mr. Giuliani ousted the two men from the Navy Yard project in October, New Jersey officials beckoned and offered them a chance to build a studio in Harrison, N.J., as part of a 250-acre waterfront redevelopment.

Now state officials, led by Charles Gargano, Gov. Pataki’s top economic adviser, are doing their best to prevent Mr. De Niro and Mr. Weinstein from building the studio out of state. Even as talks continue between Mr. De Niro’s group and Jersey officials, Mr. Gargano and other officials have contacted Mr. De Niro and Mr. Weinstein and put them in touch with the cable company that owns the Yonkers site. Mr. Gargano has had several discussions with the two men about the site’s possibilities. Spokesmen for Mr. Gargano and Miramax Films declined to comment.

If it is built, the studio would be 22 minutes from the city by commuter rail. The site includes a 100-foot-tall, light-blue-paneled building that was used by Paramount Pictures to shoot “Sleepy Hollow.”

Rudy Helps Yonkers!

Now that Mr. De Niro and Mr. Weinstein seem interested in the new site, state officials and Yonkers leaders are thrilled that Mr. Giuliani elected to award the Navy Yard project to someone else. “It’s clear that the city’s misjudgment on this one is the city of Yonkers’ and the state of New York’s gain,” said Paul Adler, a Rockland County Democratic official and a vice president at Prudential Rand, one of two companies brokering discussions between Mr. De Niro’s group and Yonkers officials.

According to sources involved in the discussions, Mr. De Niro and Mr. Weinstein envision a scaled-down version of the Navy Yard project, which is expected to have a dozen soundstages that will be able to compete with Hollywood. Mr. De Niro and Mr. Weinstein are contemplating a project that would include up to a half-dozen soundstages. The blue-paneled building, which has the advantage of having no floors or columns inside, would house a soundstage of up to 30,000 square feet. One option being discussed is a joint venture that would include TriBeCa Productions, Mr. De Niro’s production company, Miramax Films and BICC Cables Corporation, which still owns the site.

The efforts by Mr. De Niro and Mr. Weinstein–which were first reported by the Westchester-based Journal News –is only one of several surprising new plot lines in the Brooklyn Navy Yard saga. Most New Yorkers assumed that the story had come to an end last fall, when Mr. Giuliani handed the Navy Yard project to two Brooklyn investors who first dreamed up the idea, Louis Madigan and Cary Dean Hart. Their financial backer was Douglas Steiner, a New Jersey developer who is the son of a top Democratic power broker. At the time, Mr. Giuliani justified the move by insisting that the Steiner-led group would develop the project at a better price for the city than Mr. De Niro and company.

But now Mr. Steiner has run into legal trouble. In February, just weeks after Mr. De Niro and Mr. Weinstein journeyed to Yonkers, Mr. Steiner quietly pleaded guilty to breaking into a Federal judge’s chamber as part of a marriage squabble. According to the New Jersey Law Journal , Mr. Steiner admitted breaking into the chamber to gain access to the computer of his wife, the judge’s law clerk, to determine whether she was having an extramarital affair. Mr. Steiner, who is scheduled to be sentenced on May 11, is not expected to do jail time under a plea agreement, the report said. He declined to comment.

Mr. Madigan dismissed talk of Mr. Steiner’s travails. “It’s had no impact on the project,” he told The Observer . “Demolition is underway and we’ll start construction in the summer.”

Meanwhile, Mr. De Niro and Mr. Weinstein may face problems of their own. At first glance, the site lacks the glamour of the suddenly hip Brooklyn Navy Yard. It sits in the Glenwood section of Yonkers, a once-thriving industrial neighborhood that is now filled with beat-up and abandoned Victorian houses and apartment buildings.

What’s more, the site is a mess. It is suspected to be contaminated by lead, asbestos and P.C.B.’s–leading the city of Yonkers to lower the assessed value of the property from $9 million to $2.5 million, to account for millions of dollars in cleanup costs.

Still, such post-industrial landscapes seem to entrance Mr. De Niro. He poured millions of dollars into his TriBeCa Film Center at a time when talk of investing in the area drew knowing snickers from realtors who couldn’t imagine a successful development south of SoHo. And Mr. De Niro was among the first to be inspired by Mr. Madigan and Mr. Hart’s idea of a studio at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, another once-thriving area that has sustained decades of post-industrial decline.