On the latest act of the mayor’s West Side development drama, the New York Jets are pursuing talks with several cultural institutions to build a museum and performing-arts theater at the base of the their proposed stadium there, The Observer has learned.
According to team officials, the Jets are particularly interested in partnering with the Queens-based New York Hall of Science to create a “Science of Sport” museum.
“We’ve been considering for some time how to incorporate other community uses into the facility, and in the past few weeks we decided on a theater and a museum,” said Matthew Higgins, vice president for strategic planning with the Jets.
Restaurant and retail space will also be added to the eastern side of the stadium, in a bid to make the face of the stadium more friendly to neighbors who imagine a windswept canyon on non-game days.
Mr. Higgins’ comments, along with the team’s decision to add ground-level cultural space to the facility, come as the Jets are under fire from community groups, elected officials and business leaders, who claim that the proposed 75,000-seat stadium will discourage, rather than attract, street life on non-game days. The issue is critical because the Jets and the Bloomberg administration claim that the stadium will act as a catalyst for the redevelopment of the far West Side.
“Trying to dress the stadium up in some fashion does not in any way obfuscate the real issue,” said Gerald Schoenfeld, chairman of the Shubert Organization, which owns 17 of some 35 Broadway theaters. Mr. Schoenfeld and many theater owners have been among the stadium’s vocal opponents. “Is a stadium the right use in this part of New York? My answer is no,” he said.
The proposed stadium is located on a stretch of M.T.A.-owned railyards from 30th to 33rd streets, between 11th Avenue and the Hudson River. The museum and theater will be located on the western, waterfront side of the facility. Mr. Higgins said the museum would probably be around 10,000 to 15,000 square feet, and the theater would have 199 seats. He also said the eastern side of the stadium, along 11th Avenue, would contain between 10,000 and 20,000 square feet of ground-level retail or restaurants.
Officially called the New York Sports and Convention Center, the stadium will double as expansion space for the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center, which lies one block to the north. In addition, the NYSCC would host the 2012 Olympic games in the case of a successful American bid. The Jets have pledged to pay $800 million for the construction of the stadium, and the city and state will contribute $600 million for a deck above the railyards at the site, in addition to a retractable roof and an air-conditioning system.
The NYSCC has emerged as the most contentious aspect of the Bloomberg administration’s plan to redevelop the Hudson Yards district. Jets and city officials estimate that the stadium will generate $75 million in economic benefits to the city, largely from tourists and visitors who attend the facility’s convention shows. But many critics argue that the stadium will prove a poor convention hall, and will generate far less revenue for the city than is being claimed. In December, the Jets dropped plans to construct the area in such a way that it could serve as an arena-to host events like medium-sized concerts-which fueled criticism that the stadium will prove even less of an economic boon to the city.
Bloomberg administration officials maintain that the stadium will prove a magnet for development and pedestrian traffic in the area. The Jets’ decision to add cultural and retail elements to the stadium is an attempt to buttress that claim.
“This is another way to get the message out that this facility is going to serve many uses beyond a stadium,” said Mr. Higgins. “In fact, the majority of uses won’t be stadium-related.”
At least at first glance, however, that argument doesn’t seem to have much traction among the local officials opposed to the stadium.
“This is just window-dressing,” said Assemblyman Richard Gottfried, who represents the area. “You can dress up a monstrosity, but it’s still a monstrosity.”
The Jets’ decision drew praise, however, from the city’s tourism bureau, NYC and Company, whose president, Cristyne Nicholas, said that coupling the stadium with cultural offerings will help to make the far West Side a tourist destination. The Municipal Arts Society, one the city’s most respected urban-planning organizations-which has yet to take a formal position on the stadium in general-said that anything that encouraged street life around the facility would be a welcome addition.
Eric Siegel, director of planning and program development at the New York Hall of Science in Queens, said the Jets first contacted him about a week ago with the idea of opening a branch at the NYSCC.
“It looks like a very attractive space, and we could imagine a facility that would be about the science of sports that would fit their goal of making a community and visitor destination,” said Mr. Siegel. “There’s a lot of great science in sports.”
Mr. Siegel said the museum and the Jets are still in a very preliminary phase of their talks. At the earliest, the stadium wouldn’t open before 2009. (Incidentally, the Hall of Science is located in Flushing Meadows Corona Park-the very site many activists are pushing as an alternative for the construction of the Olympic stadium.)
The Jets are also carving out between 10,000 and 20,000 square feet of retail space on the eastern side of the stadium. According to real-estate agents, that’s about enough room for a Pottery Barn and an Anne Klein Store. The theater the Jets are proposing will have 199 seats. That puts it in the league of a very small Off Broadway or community theater. Mr. Schoenfeld, of the Shubert Organization, said that such theaters can be difficult to sustain economically, as their small size prevents them from incorporating the infrastructure necessary to support multi-set performances.
Mr. Higgins didn’t dispute that claim, but pointed to the lack of performance space in the city to support the team’s choice.
“Community theater is an integral part of the theater industry in New York, and such space is in short supply,” he said. “It’s unfortunate that Schoenfeld doesn’t see the need for it-but we do.”