The Jets are preparing to launch an all-out political and public-relations blitz designed to build support for their plan to move to a new stadium on the West Side of Manhattan, The Observer has learned.
The team has hired Bill Lynch, the veteran Democratic operative, former deputy mayor and long-suffering Jets fan, to help win over elected officials, community leaders and members of the city’s labor elite. The Jets have also commissioned a poll designed to create a detailed profile of New Yorkers’ attitudes towards a new stadium, making it easier for the team to market the idea.
“In the next few months, we’re going to put on the full-court press,” Mr. Lynch said in an interview with The Observer . “We’re going to win support from one end of the city to the other.”
The poll, which is currently being conducted among likely voters in New York, will also help the team counter the campaign that in coming months will inevitably be waged by community opposition groups. Many of them are already mobilizing to block the plan, even as some midtown real-estate developers-such as Douglas Durst, the builder of the Condé Nast building-are publicly questioning its financing scheme.
The stadium is part of a broader proposal, unveiled by the Bloomberg administration on Feb. 10, which would include a sports facility, an expansion of the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center, and a host of other amenities on the west side between 42nd and 28th streets. But it’s the stadium that has fired up the opposition.
So the Jets are planning an intense effort to win public support. Jets coach Herm Edwards, and possibly Chad Pennington, the young, rookie quarterback who carried the Jets into the playoffs, are expected to play a role. Mr. Edwards is being honored on Feb. 27 before a group of top New York City executives organized by the Association for a Better New York and 100 Black Men of America, a national group devoted to helping African Americans. While the Jets’ future location won’t be the focus of his remarks, Mr. Edwards is expected to tell his audience that he’d love to bring the team back to New York. Mr. Lynch said he’d advise the Jets to get Mr. Edwards and Mr. Pennington to promote the idea in speeches or in visits to community groups.
“We want to build on the success the Jets had last year,” said Mr. Lynch, who reports to Jay Cross, the President of Jets Development, which was set up to build the new facility. “With the rise of Chad Pennington, there’s a buzz out there in the city about the Jets,” Mr. Lynch continued, “and I think the team ought to capitalize on that. We will develop an outreach campaign that relies on the general goodwill that the Jets have provided. I want everyone to be wearing a Jets cap in this city. I want New York to become Jets-town.”
The team has been discussing sending out mailings promoting the stadium plan to season ticket holders, and according to sources, the Jets organization is discussing a possible a media campaign similar to the one used by the city last year to entice the Olympics to come to New York, which included mailings and TV ads.
Mr. Lynch is hardly the only person involved in the campaign. Others include high-profile public relations men John Marino and Dan Klores, as well as a team of consultants operating out of Albany who are charged with lobbying the Governor’s office. But it’s Mr. Lynch who will have the extremely difficult task of winning over local elected officials and grass-roots leaders. Mr. Lynch, who helped engineer the rise of David Dinkins, has extensive credibility for many of these leaders. The question is whether this will prove at all persuasive to opponents of the project, many of whom harbor a suspicion of vast capital projects that was forged during the struggle against Westway a generation ago.
Critics Lash Out
Indeed, some opponents are already casting the Jets’ nascent lobbying efforts as those of an all-powerful corporate entity bent on subverting the will of the community.
“It seems somewhat unfair that the Jets are going to dump all of their corporate resources into this when they are up against unfunded community groups who are just trying to protect their neighborhood and fight for responsible development,” said Council member Christine Quinn of the West Side. “That said, I’d still bet on the West Side residents.”
Enter Mr. Lynch, a lifelong New Yorker and Jets fan, whose reputation will be key to making the case that the facility will be friendly to the neighborhood, bringing prosperity and new amenities to a district of grimy warehouses and vast, empty thoroughfares.
“We have to make sure this is not seen as a project that’s being forced down the community’s throat,” Mr. Lynch said. “We want to get the message out that this will be community-friendly. That’s going to be key.”
The plan for a Jets facility in Manhattan is at the center of a vast proposal that would require billions of dollars in public investment. It calls for a string of new office towers across 11th Avenue from an expanded Jacob K. Javits Convention center. It would include parkland, mixed income housing, a waterfront esplanade, ferry terminals, hotels and a new tree-lined boulevard. The number 7 train would be extended from Times Square to 34th Street and 11th Avenue.
The new stadium-which would be home to the Jets and, possibly, the Olympics, should it come to New York in 2012-would be built on a huge platform atop the rail yards in the west 30s. While the Jets would pay for much of the stadium, the city and state would put up the money to build the platform.
Some elements of the project-which needs City Council approval and relies heavily on state investment-have already stirred fierce opposition from west side residents and local politicians. Some groups fear the destruction of local housing, while others are afraid that congestion will discourage visitors to the nearby theater district.
Meanwhile, some state officials and real estate developers are questioning whether the new office towers will succeed in generating enough revenue to help finance the rest of the development. They are wondering if the plan will go belly up and force the taxpayers to bail it out.
“The Jets have done a great job of listening to all the interested parties, and the physical plan is very well thought out,” said Mr. Durst, the real estate developer, whose family owns a number of office towers in midtown. “However, I don’t understand the economics. I don’t see how you project demand for 30 million square feet of office space. If they are going to finance it with revenues from those rentals, it seems to me to be a very risky approach. It’s possible that they could end up with some of the financing, but go bust. Then what would happen?”
Mr. Bloomberg and deputy Mayor Dan Doctoroff have already undertaken an intense, behind-the-scenes effort to win support for the proposal among business, labor and civic leaders. In speeches and in private briefings, the Mayor has been telling these leaders that the city’s finances are in terrible shape and that the city’s future depends on its ability to grow its way out of the crisis. The west side plan, the Mayor has been saying, is key to that effort.
Now the Jets are launching their own effort. Mr. Lynch has been lobbying public officials throughout the city, many of whom know and trust him from past campaigns. Mr. Lynch’s love of the team is driving his efforts-he has been a fan since the 1960s, when Joe Namath was wearing Brut and throwing passes into the wind at Shea Stadium, and these days, his 27-year-old daughter sports a jersey featuring the name and number of Curtis Martin, the Jets’ All-Pro running back. The Jets moved from Shea in 1984 when the team’s then-owner, Leon Hess, complained about conditions at the stadium, especially, he said, the overflowing toilets in the men’s bathrooms.
Mr. Lynch said that he believed that New Yorkers would support the new Jets stadium, which presumably will feature the latest in bathroom technology. That prediction is supported by two polls the Jets commissioned in the past to gauge public backing-one in 2001 and the other in 2000. One survey, Mr. Lynch said, noted that in 1984 the Jets moved from Shea Stadium to New Jersey, and asked if the Jets should come back to New York. Sixty-five percent said yes.
The new poll commissioned by the team is intended both to gauge whether that support is still there and how support and opposition breaks down by race, age and other demographic categories. “We’re trying to find out the reasons people support or oppose the proposal,” Mr. Lynch said. “That will enable us to make the case.”
In the end, Mr. Lynch hopes to emulate teams who built stadiums in San Francisco, Toronto and London, where, he said, the projects were largely embraced by the local populations. “In these economic times,” Mr. Lynch said, “we should create a big project that is both community friendly and helpful to the economic health of the city.”