On Feb. 25, a group of West Side Jets fans are scheduled to fire up hot dogs and grills outside a West Side theater to protest the end of tailgating as they know it.
City officials are due at the theater to present their redevelopment plan for the Hudson Yards district, the centerpiece of which is a new stadium for the New York Jets. Many fans are worried that the quintessential tradition ofraucous Meadowlands tailgates won’t survive the trip across the Hudson.
It should make for an odd sight: Jets fans from Manhattan protesting the team’s move to New York.
It also might be a case of too little, too late.
In a city that requires a Kafkaesque odyssey through government red tape just to change the brick façade on your townhouse, it might come as a surprise that New Yorkers will have no direct say over whether the Bloomberg administration should get to build a $1.4 billion stadium- cum -convention-center on the far West Side.
You could be excused for thinking otherwise. After all, it’s going to cost the public a minimum of $600 million, not to mention the fact that it will make a monolithic mega-block from 30th to 33rd streets on prime Hudson River real estate.
The City Council doesn’t have any real say in this matter because that stretch of waterfront property is state-owned land, and therefore outside the Council’s purview. But in a bureaucratic sleight of hand that stadium opponents have likened to a move out of Robert Moses’ play book, the administration seems to have found a way to cut the State Legislature out of the loop as well.
And as that fact has quickly become apparent in the last few weeks, more and more leaders in government, business and civic circles are beginning to question the underlying arguments for the stadium in the first place.
The stadium is supposed to serve as valuable expansion space for the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center, but convention-show experts are deeply divided over how much value the stadium will actually add to the Javits Center’s profile.
The stadium is supposed to spur new development in the Hudson Yards district, but urban-design experts question whether businesses or residents will want a stadium as a neighbor.
The stadium is crucial to the 2012 Olympic bid, but Olympics analysts argue that the Games are too much of a long shot to be driving development policy; and in any case, the Olympics could be hosted in Queens.
Many critics are now wondering why, exactly, a stadium is the only option under consideration. Why not three blocks of residential or office towers that would equal, or exceed, the economic impact generated by a stadium/convention center?
The Bloomberg administration’s answer has been that the development of the site is going to take a huge public investment, and the Jets’ $800 million offer to become permanent anchor tenants on the site is too good an offer to pass up.
The proposed stadium site is currently a three-block stretch of M.T.A.-owned rail yards. The city and state need to build a $400 million deck atop the yards before a stadium can be built. (And in order for the stadium to function as a convention center, they will need to spend an additional $200 million for a retractable roof and air-conditioning system.) The Jets, in pledging to pay $800 million for the construction of the actual stadium, are essentially guaranteeing that the city won’t end up with an empty deck.
Stadium opponents, however, call that argument disingenuous, pointing out that just one block to the east, the city is spending $350 million to build a deck over another three-block stretch of rail yards-and no developer has committed any money toward the development of that site. If the city and state don’t need an anchor tenant on the eastern deck, the argument goes, neither do they need one on the western deck-especially given that it is highly desirable waterfront property.
Opponents of the stadium plan now include almost all local elected officials-from Congressman Jerrold Nadler down to the community board president-in addition to prominent Broadway-theater owners, the city’s public advocate, Betsy Gotbaum, various community groups and, to a lesser extent, the Regional Plan Association, which recently released a report that called for more study on the stadium.
“The evidence is not on the Mayor’s side,” Ms. Gotbaum said in a statement on Feb. 11. “Stadiums do not lead to revitalization, even if you call them sports and convention centers. In this case, there’s reason to think that a stadium may cause industries to leave the West Side.”
Groups in favor of the stadium include the city’s tourism bureau, the construction industry and the leaders of the city’s chamber of commerce and real-estate-industry trade group.
The New York Sports and Convention Center is the centerpiece of the Bloomberg administration’s plan to redevelop the Hudson Yards district, a 59-block area roughly bounded by 28th and 43rd streets, from Eighth Avenue to the Hudson River. That plan, which Deputy Mayor Daniel Doctoroff formally announced two weeks ago, carries a $3.7 billion price tag, and calls for an eventual 40 million square feet of office and residential towers, an extension of the No. 7 subway line, 20 acres of parks and open space, and a deck over the eastern rail yards.
The stadium, however, will be financed separately, and Mr. Doctoroff has yet to announce a formal plan for its development. But lawmakers who have heard a broad outline of his plan are worried that, contrary to prior administration claims, it won’t require any kind of vote.
The stadium site is state-owned land, which makes it exempt from normal city zoning rules. But until as late as April of 2003, administration officials have been assuring nervous City Council members that the stadium’s development would be handled by some kind of state-level development corporation-the creation of which would require a vote by the State Legislature. But according to City Council member Christine Quinn, Mr. Doctoroff said at a recent City Council meeting that the stadium would now be developed through some kind of local-level development corporation-the creation of which would not require a vote.
“I take exception to the fact that [the administration] created the expectation of a vote by State Legislature on the entity that would develop the stadium proper,” Ms. Quinn said, “and now they’re going down a different road, which does not include a legislature’s vote on the authority that will develop the stadium.”
Mr. Doctoroff did not return repeated requests for comment.
The Jets will be hosting only eight to 10 home games per year, so in order for the stadium to make economic sense for the city, it needs to excel in its other role: convention center annex space. The Javits Center is currently moving ahead with plans to expand their current facility northward to 42nd Street, in addition to connecting to the stadium by means of a tunnel underneath 34th Street.
Jets officials predict that stadium’s 200,000 square feet of space will lure around 46 shows annually that otherwise would have passed the city by. Along with the taxes generated by football-related events, the Jets estimate $75 million in economic impact to the city per year.
Many convention-show organizers, however, see several potential problems with the stadium’s dual role. First, it won’t offer contiguous space to the Javits Center, which, according to Candida Romanelli, director of the New York International Auto Show, could result in some exhibitors in the stadium feeling like they are being relegated to the backwaters.
In addition, there may be scheduling conflicts with the Jets.
“The N.F.L. makes their game dates a year in advance,” said Jeff Little, president of George Little Management, one of the country’s biggest show organizers. “The trade-show community books their shows years in advance. Nobody is going to book that place with the fear that they’re going to be put off by a football game.”
On the other hand, a senior executive at Reed Exhibitions, another of the country’s large show organizers, said he is optimistic about the stadium’s prospects as overflow convention space.
“The Jets stadium option is necessary to hold other events, e.g. consumer shows, as an alternative location to the Javits for those meeting planners/exhibition management companies looking to hold events during Javits’ busy seasons,” said Ken McAvoy, senior vice president for operations at Reed Exhibitions.
To pay back their construction loans for the larger redevelopment, the city and state are counting on developers to erect hundreds of tax-producing buildings. But what happens if no one wants a 75,000-seat stadium as a neighbor?
Jonathan Barnett, a renowned professor of city and regional planning at the University of Pennsylvania, said you can argue it both ways: Stadiums in downtown locations can provide a boost to locals bars, restaurants and tourist shops, but stadiums in neighborhood locations are anathema to most urban-planning principles.
“The problem with the West Side of Manhattan is that it’s disputed ground,” Mr. Barnett said. “It’s between downtown and a neighborhood. If you listen to the downtown argument, it makes perfect sense. If you listen to the neighborhood argument, it also makes perfect sense.”
The city has been fast-tracking the stadium project in large part because Mr. Doctoroff wants construction to have started by July of 2005, when the I.O.C. makes its decision about the Olympic host city. Mr. Doctoroff says that the stadium plan should go forward whether or not New York wins the 2012 Games, that the accelerated Olympic timetable provides a welcome stimulus to the city’s normally creaky development machine.
Many critics dismiss this reasoning, however, not only because the 2012 bid is a long shot at best, but because Queens could host the games. In October, Newsday reported that internal memos from the city’s Olympics organizing committee, NYC 2012, identify the Shea Stadium area as a viable alternative to the West Side of Manhattan. Mr. Doctoroff at the time characterized the report as merely a contingency plan, and that Shea was absolutely not under consideration.
Nevertheless, several Queens community groups have recently been meeting to discuss the idea of a Queens-based Olympics. Brian Hatch, a New Yorker who was a former deputy mayor in Salt Lake City during the lead-up to the 2002 Winter Games, has practically made a full-time job out of agitating for a Queens Olympics. His online blog, newyorkgames.org, is dedicated to picking apart the Bloomberg administration’s case for a Manhattan-based Olympics. And it seems people are listening. According to Mr. Hatch’s Web-monitoring software, the most frequent visitors to his site have the I.P. addresses native to NYC 2012 staffers.
Follow Blair Golson via RSS.