In March 1956, as the baseball Dodgers and Giants planned their abandonment of the city that had given them sustenance for half a century, Manhattan Borough President Hulan Jack suggested that a domed stadium be built on stilts over rail yards on the West Side of Manhattan, a place where both teams could play.
The stadium, planned for the site in the West 60′s where Donald Trump ultimately built his luxury housing, would’ve had 110,000 seats, and Jack said it could easily be accommodated for football, making it a three-for-one deal. Jack also envisioned the stadium as the venue for 1960 Olympics.
His idea was ridiculed by the owners, as was the suggestion by Robert Moses that the Dodgers move to Flushing, where Shea Stadium now sits. “We wouldn’t be the Brooklyn Dodgers then,” bellowed the team’s owner, Walter O’Malley, as he packed his bags and laid claim to 300 acres of city-owned land in central Los Angeles.
Having learned nothing from our past, Mayor Michael Bloomberg is asking Manhattan residents to accept a football stadium for the New Jersey Jets-a team which also fled the city-and their 78,000 white male suburban fans.
The Jets and the Giants both left town years ago because their owners, Leon Hess of the Jets and the Mara family of the Giants, decided they simply weren’t rich enough; nor were they content with sell-out crowds at Shea and Yankee stadiums, respectively.
Let’s leave aside the strangling debt service ($42 million annually for 30 years) on the city’s share of the $600 million cost of building a platform on which the new stadium would sit. Let’s also leave aside the traffic and environmental nightmares that a West Side stadium would generate.
What’s missing from the debate is how Ed Koch (yes, the same Ed Koch who now wants to lure the Jets back from the Meadowlands) was willing to pay off the Jets to stay in New York-but they wanted more! In 1983, Mr. Koch put $43 million on the table to renovate Shea for the Jets, and he even promised them a totally unnecessary domed stadium. Mr. Koch is the guy who negotiated the $13-million-a-year welfare check-by waiving real-estate taxes-for Madison Square Garden’s owners when they threatened to move the Knicks and Rangers (but not the arena) to New Jersey. This was at the same time he was closing Sydenham Hospital in Harlem for budget reasons.
What’s also being overlooked in the Jets debate is the history of sports stadiums in New York. Until 1972, when John Lindsay was running for President and making nice with CBS, which owned the Yankees, many sports teams built their own parks with private money-not yours. Indeed, the Upper East Side beer baron Jacob Rupert dug deep into his pockets to build Yankee Stadium in 1923.
When Yankee Stadium was being renovated, at an eventual cost of $100 million (Lindsay’s “ballpark” figure was $24 million), four teams shared Shea. The Yankees, Mets, Jets and Giants all played there in 1975, and there is no reason why the same thing can’t happen again-in Queens. Sure, the Giants seem content in New Jersey-they’ve proposed building a new stadium (what’s wrong with the one they have now?)-but the Yankees, Mets and Jets are all looking for new facilities.
Jets owner Woody Johnson is wealthy beyond anyone’s imagination (except the Mayor’s), as are George Steinbrenner of the Yankees and Fred Wilpon of the Mets, both of whom want your money for their private companies. Their teams are among the most valuable sports franchises in the country. They play in stadiums that, while owned by the taxpayers, still retain names that can easily be auctioned off for tens of millions of dollars, like cities across the country have done in naming their parks after banks and orange-juice companies.
All the Mayor has to do is call Snapple or another of his favored City Hall companies and get them to write the check.
The football Giants also played in the Polo Grounds, as did the Mets and the forerunner to the Jets, the New York Titans. Yankee Stadium was used for boxing matches, Negro League baseball and papal masses. The Beatles played Shea.
An all-purpose park can be built on city-owned land in Flushing in a couple of years, accessible to mass transit and highways, with private capital, just like in the good old days when Mayors built housing and hospitals and schools, not stadiums.
When millionaire ball players aren’t using the place and whining about their underpaid status, the kids in our schools can use it for concerts and to learn how to paint, write music and have a good time in a stadium subsidized by their parents.