West Side Stadium: A Bad Idea

The Observer has previously endorsed plans by the city and the state to assist the New York Jets in building a 75,000-seat, state-of-the-art football stadium on Manhattan’s far West Side. But after re-examining the likely impact such a stadium would have on New York’s quality of life and economic health, we must admit that we’ve made a mistake, dazzled like everyone else by a 2012 Olympics in the city and a football team in our backyard. Instead of bolstering the city’s economy, the proposed stadium would be a flagrant misuse of a priceless plot of land in the heart of the city which, if developed over time with care, could become a residential, retail and commercial complex to rival New York’s most exciting and desirable neighborhoods.

Prominent, long-time New Yorkers are starting to speak out against the plan, including Broadway theater owners who are rightly concerned that the increased stadium traffic would cause gridlock in the theater district and make attending the theater a daunting proposal for New Yorkers and tourists. “The stakes for the city are enormous,” Gerald Schoenfeld, chairman of the Shubert Organization, told The New York Times . “There is no evidence of a stadium having a positive effect on an urban center. This is a valuable piece of real estate; we should not be rushed in deciding its fate.” Despite their glamour, sports stadiums are famous for doing almost nothing for the surrounding neighborhood or larger urban economy. A 1996 study by the city comptroller concluded that professional sports events account for just 0.7 percent of a city’s annual gross economic product. And the theater owners’ forebodings about jammed streets are entirely valid: traffic, already atrocious because of the Lincoln Tunnel, would be a disaster on game days.

The Jets are claiming that the stadium will serve as a magnet for residential and office construction in the immediate area, and Deputy Mayor Daniel Doctoroff has asserted that the $3.7 billion in bonds and short-term debt which the city plans to offer to pay for sprucing up the far West Side would easily be paid for by selling development rights to these phantom office and residential buildings. But the stadium would likely have the opposite effect: No developer with significant resources is going to want to build in the vicinity of a sports arena-who would want their office or apartment in the shadow of a stadium? Just look at any football stadium in America, and you will see that the stadium does not foster commercial or residential construction. The stadium in downtown Atlanta is a prime example; apart from the days when the Falcons play, it is a deserted and forlorn area.

It seems that Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Governor George Pataki have been enticed by the Jets’ argument that the stadium could also be used for the 2012 Olympics-or maybe they’ve been enticed by the fact that Jets owner Robert Wood Johnson IV is a major contributor to the Republican Party and George Bush’s re-election effort. In any case, the Olympics argument holds no water: There is plenty of space for a stadium in Queens, and a Queens site would be closer to the proposed Olympic village, so athletes would be easier to transport to and from the competition.

Deputy Mayor Doctoroff will argue that without the stadium as an anchor, the far West Side will never be developed. But the above facts, and common sense, show the opposite to be true: A stadium would strike a long-lasting blow against any chance of transforming the area into a vital, revenue-producing neighborhood. The city and state plan to add $600 million of taxpayer money to the Jet’s $800 million investment. That public money would be far better spent on infrastructure-such as extending the No. 7 subway line-to support future, measured development in the area. Or how about taking that money and investing it in the redevelopment of lower Manhattan?

The Jets’ willingness to pay for a stadium is not sufficient reason to hand them this magnificent piece of real estate for a team that will only use it eight to 10 times a year, and maybe another eight to 20 days for practice and media events. The far West Side should be, and will be, redeveloped in the coming years. The area will either become one of the city’s treasures-or home to a glitzy stadium surrounded by a wasteland that will stand as a symbol of Mayor Bloomberg’s and Governor Pataki’s failure of vision.

The Real Jobless Tragedy

The figure is simply astounding: About one in two black men in New York City is jobless. Half . The figure for Hispanic men in the city is almost as troubling: One in three Hispanic males between 16 and 64 years of age does not have work. Even the figure for white males is frightening: One in four is without work.

The figures were compiled by the Community Service Society, a not-for-profit group that advocates for the poor, and were based on U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics numbers. The statistics suggest that the official unemployment rate-6 percent nationally, 8 percent in the city -is virtually meaningless. That number considers only those actively in the labor force-that is, people who are out of work but looking for a job. The C.S.S. figures, however, take into consideration those who are out of the work force entirely. Those numbers are significantly higher than the official unemployment rates.

And what a dire story those numbers tell. If the numbers for black, Hispanic and white male city residents are correct (or even nearly correct), this is a social and economic catastrophe in the making. Protracted unemployment leads to profound personal and familial suffering, which can lead to crime, drug use and all the social pathologies that many New Yorkers believe are part of the bad old days. If about half of the city’s black males are out of work, and a third of Hispanic males, and a quarter of while males, it is just a matter of time before crime begins to spike. The city’s reputation as the world’s safest big city will then be in tatters.

So, clearly, something must be done. But what? Manufacturing jobs are gone, and there’s no use wishing that they would return. Low-skill service jobs are often biased against males of all racial backgrounds. The city and we as a society must take aggressive steps to re-integrate black, Hispanic and white males into the work force. Many of them, presumably, have not gone to college, and so do not have the skills and résumés needed for our Information Age economy. But with stepped-up programs in mentoring, with better outreach to young males in danger of slipping into the cycle of unemployment and crime, perhaps we as a society can head off another terrible decline in quality of life. We don’t need a repeat of the early 1990s in New York.

Equally distressing is the so-called assurance that other cities have similar structural unemployment. Again, this puts a lie to the relatively rosy unemployment data put out by the B.L.S. Why don’t we hear more about the true jobless rate? Is it any wonder, then, that jobs have become a key issue in this year’s Presidential campaign, even with a relatively low unemployment rate?

This issue has many implications for the future, all of them negative. It’s time to address the problem, or it surely will address us in the years to come.