The bizarre assault on Madison Square Garden and its owners, the Dolan family, has sailed up the Hudson River to Albany, where politicians in search of headlines are demanding an end to a tax relief measure passed more than 30 years ago.
The move comes as local officials are debating the extension of a zoning permit allowing the Garden to operate atop Penn Station. The Dolans would like an indefinite extension—the current arrangement expired after 50 years. But members of the local community board and several elected officials are talking about a 10-year deal, after which the Dolans will be invited to move their business elsewhere.
Such are the thanks you get for investing a billion dollars to improve your property, as the Dolans have done. The Garden’s sight lines have been improved—for the benefit of fans—and the place looks and even smells better. Now, if critics have their way, the Dolans will pay an additional $16 million a year in taxes for the next 10 years, after which they will have no choice but to build a new Garden.
The Dolans certainly are an easy target. The family patriarch, Charles Dolan, founded Cablevision back in the golden days of broadcast TV. It took guts and vision to stick with the business plan, but Mr. Dolan did so, and the family is now a powerful player in the regional economy. Cablevision also owns two storied sports franchises, the Knicks and the Rangers; its own television channel, MSG network; and the world’s most famous arena.
The Dolans certainly have the resources to take care of themselves. Still, they deserve a better fate than to become a local politician’s punching bag. Their commitment to the city and to civic life is beyond question.
Nevertheless, two Democrats from Queens, Assemblyman David Weprin and State Senator James Sanders, are seeking state legislation that would eliminate a deal that gives the Garden $16 million in tax savings every year. Mr. Weprin said the money taken from the Dolans could be used “on things like education, police.”
The assemblyman was a little shaky on specifics, but you get the idea—he, like many other political figures, regards private wealth as a potential asset that the state may appropriate when necessary.
The Dolans are not the only sports figures who have benefited in some way from public policy. The Yankees, Mets and Nets all received some form of public assistance to build or support their new playpens. The Garden’s renovations, on the other hand, received not a cent in public funds.
So why pick on the Dolans? It’s hard not to conclude that critics are carrying water for big labor, which loathes the family. The Communications Workers of America has been protesting the firing of 22 Cablevision employees several months ago. Cablevision says they were dismissed for insubordination, but the union is flexing its muscle in an attempt to embarrass the company.
Not surprisingly, the anti-Garden effort has the support of the union-aligned Working Families Party and of local politicians who live in fear of offending big labor.
Fair-minded New Yorkers might well conclude that the Dolans are being singled out for reasons that have nothing to do with public policy and everything to do with politics as usual.
They certainly deserve better.