The Unmaking Of a Stadium, 2005 and 2012

So recently, boosters for the proposal to build a stadium for the New York Jets and to host the 2012 Olympics thought they had it made.

On Thursday, June 2, a judge threw out several lawsuits against the sale of the land on which the stadium was to be built. Community opposition, and an aggressive $30 million ad campaign financed by the owners of Madison Square Garden (who smelled a competitor in the nearby stadium), was surely the reason Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno refused to finally relent and place their seal of approval on the stadium deal.

But when the stadium’s boosters woke up the next morning, they learned that Mr. Silver had scheduled a press conference at Ground Zero to coincide with the vote by the Public Authorities Control Board that was to determine the stadium’s ultimate fate.

The message was obvious: He would use that hallowed ground-which happens to sit in the middle of the district he’s represented for 30 years-to build his final refutation of the Mayor’s stadium plan.

Amid fears of a no vote on Friday, June 3, Mr. Silver was pressed to move the vote to Monday.

“When the Speaker agreed to move the vote from Friday to Monday, it seemed he was serious and was considering what the Mayor had to say, and that he wanted to engage in dialogue,” said one pro-stadium source.

The Mayor, sources said, thought he had a chance. A meeting was scheduled for Sunday, June 5.

Mr. Silver had already largely written his speech-an eloquent tirade against government that runs like business and a moral appeal to redevelop Ground Zero-by the end of that day, according to Mr. Silver’s spokesman, Charles Carrier.

Mr. Bruno, who wanted to approve the stadium only if the Olympics came to New York, seemed to have a pretty good idea what was in it. Saturday night, at a banquet for legislative correspondents in Albany, New York 1’s Davidson Goldin and the New York Post’s Gregg Birnbaum called out to the Senate Majority Leader, who was strolling by. Mr. Birnbaum explained that he had just bet a bottle of liquor that the stadium would go through.

“You bet it’s going to happen?” Mr. Bruno asked. “Looks like you’re going dry.”

Then he walked off, turned back and added, “Enjoy the beer.”

Mr. Silver and Mr. Bloomberg spent much of Sunday, June 5, together: at a breakfast at the Roosevelt Hotel, followed by a mini-meeting in a side room, then a parade for Israel, and finally by another meeting, this one at City Hall. But there wasn’t much back-and-forth, according to sources close to the situation.

“All that was happening was that the Speaker was listening to the proposals but never responded,” the pro-stadium source told The Observer.

The Mayor offered to roll back commercial taxes downtown and stretch employment credits. He offered $5 per square foot off the rents of tenants who moved into the Freedom Tower and 7 World Trade Center, and promised to hold off on extending incentives to West Side developers until those towers were 75 percent booked.

Indeed, the depth of Mr. Silver’s opposition, and the passion of his rhetoric, didn’t become come clear until his 2 p.m. press conference the next day.

Aides to the Governor and the Mayor, according to one source, assumed that Mr. Silver might ask for more time or take a middle-of-the-road approach like Mr. Bruno, who offered to amend the resolution to support the stadium only if New York won the Olympics.

Instead, Mr. Silver declared: “Developing the West Side and ignoring lower Manhattan-this is what the PACB vote is really about …. The 2012 Summer Games are being used as a shield to hide another goal: to shift the financial and business capital of the world out of lower Manhattan and over to the West Side.”

A city Democrat close to Mr. Silver said the Speaker agreed to postpone the vote until this week out of deference to the Mayor but wasn’t really ready to compromise. “He’s beginning to wonder whether he should have just shut it down the first time he heard it,” the Democrat said Tuesday.

The West Side stadium died a death like no other mega-development in this city. It was not, like Westway, struck down by a judge, nor blocked by Jane Jacobs–style community opposition.

It died because four of the state’s biggest dealmakers couldn’t make a deal on one of the biggest projects this state has seen in years.

Of course, that’s happened before, too. It happens when the exchange rate suddenly changes in Albany, and a project in your district isn’t worth as much as the project I’m trying to do in mine.

But for this, the signature deal of the Bloomberg administration-which had the public support of the Pataki administration-surely some arrangement could have been made? Surely Messrs. Bruno and Silver could have been persuaded?

In fact, at the heart of the anatomy of this non-deal was the relationship between Mr. Bloomberg and Mr. Silver.

The two men like-or liked-each other, according to associates, and they knew how to find common ground so that they could further their own interests. But unlike in the past-unlike, for example, the famous compromise three years ago that permitted the Mayor to abolish community school boards in favor of one central board loyal to him only-Mr. Silver was brought in relatively late in the game. It was in January that the Mayor definitively decided to break the stadium proposal off from a larger rezoning package of 40 blocks on the West Side. That meant it wouldn’t have to go through the City Council for approval, where it may have been held up or rejected because of grassroots opposition.

(Ironically, the stadium may have fared so well in the Council that Mr. Silver would have had no choice but to approve it.)

It didn’t help that the stadium, though primarily for the Jets football team, was also a central part of New York’s bid to get the 2012 Summer Olympic Games, and that Deputy Mayor Daniel Doctoroff, whom Mr. Silver reportedly doesn’t care for, was in charge of that bid. It didn’t help that the owners of Madison Square Garden had, in an attempt to stave off competition for the rock concerts that it hosts, hired the son of the Senate Majority Leader and Mr. Silver’s former top aide to lobby against the Jets.

But more than anything, Mr. Bloomberg had bad luck. As a state project, the stadium would go in front of the PACB, which is controlled by Mr. Silver, Mr. Bruno and Mr. Pataki, any one of whom has veto power. And Mr. Silver just happens to be the State Assemblyman from lower Manhattan. When he comes home from Albany, he sees that the hole where the Twin Towers once stood is still a hole. If the Speaker of the Assembly was from Katonah-or maybe even the Upper East Side-this thing would have been a breeze.

But this wasn’t just a matter of setting up incentives for the Speaker’s home district or the other influential districts he’d need politically. It was the Speaker’s district, after all, that sustained the first foreign attack on American soil since Pearl Harbor.

Since February, Mr. Silver has been complaining about how the city and the state were neglecting lower Manhattan. Instead of funneling office tenants there, he contended, the Mayor and the Governor had already turned their attention to the West Side, where they wanted the state to pay for a platform and a roof for the Jets football stadium. He got the Mayor and the Governor to pay attention, and they said they were working on an incentives package for downtown.

Two weeks ago, Mr. Bloomberg and Mr. Pataki held a press conference upstairs at the Golden Unicorn restaurant in Chinatown, announcing $800 million in grants for Mr. Silver’s district-when, in fact, that money wasn’t the Mayor’s or the Governor’s to give away. It was federal 9/11 aid that had always been slated for downtown. To be fair, Mr. Bloomberg asserted that the announcement wasn’t part of a deal-it was, he explained, part of his plan hatched many months ago-but the Speaker didn’t see it that way, according to Assemblyman Richard Brodsky.

“I think Shelly was insulted when the Mayor turned the debate over the future of New York into a negotiation over pork,” said Mr. Brodsky, a Democrat from Westchester and friend of the Speaker. “The disconnect happened when the Governor and the Mayor decided that all Shelly was negotiating for was another ham sandwich.”

Mr. Silver keeps kosher.

Ironically, the Speaker has largely killed the chance for New York’s Olympics bid-which everyone supposedly is in favor of-while the Jets still could, at some point in the future, get their stadium, which was always the part of the deal that generated so much opposition.

Ironically also, Mr. Silver did little to stop the incentives that will encourage developers to tame the Wild West Side. Those incentives-property taxes estimated at about 20 percent below what they should be in midtown-were part of a rezoning package that the City Council approved this winter. They would not have been increased had the PACB approved the stadium, and Mr. Silver has lost all leverage on getting those incentives reduced.

The subsequent June 6 vote by the PACB left the Mayor feeling betrayed-and the Speaker’s home district perhaps in no better position than before.

The clutch of reporters standing on the banks of the East River on June 6, the first humid day of the year, saw the normally cool Mr. Bloomberg huff and puff moments after Mr. Silver’s speech.

“This delay will be measured in years, not months,” Mr. Bloomberg said, 155 miles down the Hudson River from the state capitol where Mr. Silver had just delivered his speech. Development on the West Side, he said, would stumble. An extension to the 42nd Street subway line would take forever. Thousands of jobs would be lost.

“Those that were on the other side,” Mr. Bloomberg said, “will have to explain why they were against jobs, why they were against economic opportunity and growth, why they are against us having a shot at the 2012 Olympics, and why elected officials representing the city were deliberately marginalized.”

The Speaker really seems to have pissed off the Mayor, though Mr. Bloomberg has collected himself some. Tuesday, he spoke in a more conciliatory-if transparently political-key.

“This city is very dependent on Albany for many, many things, and the Speaker represents a group of Assemblymen and women throughout the state, but particularly from the city,” he said. “We need them for assistance and will continue to work with the Speaker and with the Majority Leader in the same ways we worked in the past.”

Surely not exactly in the same ways.

-Additional reporting by Ben Smith, Lizzy Ratner and Sara Levin.