Our Beloved Alfonse Is Back, Lobbying To Block Stadium

The Dolan family, the dynasty that owns Cablevision and Madison Square Garden, has hired a small army of lobbyists, including former Senator Alfonse D’Amato, to fight the new West Side stadium for the Jets, which could compete with the Garden for big-draw events, The Observer has learned.

In recent weeks, the proposed stadium-which is part of a larger joint city and state plan to expand the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center-appeared to have won the approval of the major players in the Governor’s office and City Hall.

But the emergence of Mr. D’Amato, who became one of the state’s most powerful lobbyists after losing his Senate seat in 1998, could pose a threat to the project-which depends on cooperation across an alphabet soup of city and state agencies, including the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the Battery Park City Authority and other members of the state government.

According to sources familiar with his efforts, Mr. D’Amato has been leaning on city and state officials to drop plans to put a retractable roof on the Jets’ proposed stadium. Without a roof, the stadium would not be a competing force with the Garden for arena-type events like rock concerts or Final Four basketball games.

In addition to Mr. D’Amato, the father-son team of Charles and James Dolan are working with high-powered lobbyist Patricia Lynch (a former top aide to State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver) as well as the powerful Albany firm of Wilson, Elser, Moskowitz, Edelman and Dicker. Ms. Lynch, who has done work for Cablevision since entering the private sector three years ago, declined to comment on her current lobbying efforts. A representative for Wilson, Elser could not be reached by press time.

Although Mayor Bloomberg declined to comment on Mr. D’Amato’s lobbying efforts, the Dolans’ attempts to derail the stadium project are clearly trying his patience. He recently took the unusual step of lashing out at the Dolans in a newspaper interview.

“The biggest guys that are making a fuss here are, plain and simple, Cablevision-the Dolans,” the Mayor told Newsday on March 28. “It is an outrage that you let your own personal economics or economic interests stop a major project in this city.”

Mr. Bloomberg went on to say that the Dolans are “scared to death” by the prospect of competing with an enclosed stadium only three blocks to the west of the Garden. A spokesperson for the Dolans declined to comment on the issue, as did a spokesperson for Mr. D’Amato.

The new home for the Jets, officially called the New York Sports and Convention Center, is part of a massive city and state project to expand the Javits Center. The NYSCC will be connected to the Javits Center via an underground tunnel and will serve as additional convention space when the Jets are not playing games. The Jets are paying $800 million for the stadium itself, and the city and state have committed a combined $600 million to cover the cost of the retractable roof and a deck over the railyards. The project, which the city and state formally announced with great fanfare at a Javits Center press conference on March 25, still faces several legislative, environmental and legal hurdles before becoming a reality.

Originally, the Jets had planned to construct the stadium in such a way that it could be converted into an arena when it was hosting neither football games nor convention shows. This would have put the NYSCC in direct competition with the Garden for events like medium-sized rock concerts. Not surprisingly, the scheme worried the Dolans, and, in mid-December, the state’s economic-development czar, Charles Gargano, got the Jets to abandon the plan. At that point, it was assumed that the Dolans would back off from their objections to the project.

“At that time, we felt it would allay the fears that M.S.G. had,” Mr. Gargano told The Observer . “But right now, if they’re in the process of hiring consultants to kill the project, there must be something else behind it. It can’t be that they’re just concerned about the arena piece.”

The Dolans’ renewed fears may stem from the fact that the Jets are pitching their prospective new home-which would also play a central role in the 2012 Olympics-as a potential host to perhaps half a dozen mega-events per year, such as a Final Four game or the Super Bowl. And though neither of those events could fit in the Garden, there’s no guarantee that a Jets stadium would never compete with the Garden. For example, when Bruce Springsteen comes to town, it’s unclear whether he’d choose to play at the Jets stadium or the time-honored Garden.

Raising the Mayor’s ire on the stadium-roof issue might also serve to complicate the Garden’s retention of its tax-exempt status. The Dolans-whose Cablevision company is on shaky financial footing-are anxious to construct a new facility of their own in the neighborhood. However, City Hall has indicated that if the Garden moves, it may not be able to retain the tax-free status it has enjoyed since the early 80’s.

“The Dolans requested a meeting with the Mayor and Deputy Mayor Doctoroff, which took place in January, to discuss aspects of their possible plans to move, including their tax-exempt status,” said a City Hall source. “At that time, we indicated that a decision could not be made without all the facts about the move.”

The Jets, for their part, have no intention on buckling to the Dolans’ demands by building a stadium without a roof.

“The Jets are committed to building a facility that will generate $75 million a year in tax revenue by serving multiple uses,” said Jets vice president Matthew Higgins.