The centerpiece of the Bloomberg administration’s bid to bring the Olympics to New York in 2012-a stadium and International Broadcast Center on the West Side-appears to be in trouble. With the U.S. Olympic Committee due in town on June 30 to evaluate the city’s bid, the administration’s partners in developing the site are distancing themselves from the plan.
The New York Jets, whose plan for a football stadium on the West Side has been closely linked to the Olympic bid, are circulating a new plan for a stadium that, insiders say, ignores a key component of the Olympic proposal-linking the stadium with the Javits Convention Center to the north of the site to create a gigantic venue for the Games’ opening and closing ceremonies and other high-profile events. “The Jets are now moving on their own,” a source familiar with both the Olympic bid and the Jets plan told The Observer. “The Jets plan doesn’t rely on the convention-center expansion that the Olympics proposal relied on, so that it basically severs the connection between them and the Olympics proposal.”
This latest wrinkle in the years-long struggle to develop the West Side rail yards south of 34th Street appears to signal a wane in the influence of the city’s Olympic planners, who had gained headway with Mayor Bloomberg. Mr. Bloomberg himself has been a big booster of the plan even before he took office, and he appointed the founder of the city’s bid, Daniel Doctoroff, as his deputy mayor for economic development.
Jets president of development Jay Cross would not comment for this story. Jay Kriegel, who has become the driving force for the city’s 2012 bid, denied that the plan for an Olympic stadium on the West Side was in jeopardy.
“I’m not sure that [the Javits and Jets plans] are inconsistent with our objectives,” he said. “We have always begun from the premise that there are two preeminent needs on the West Side. One is to expand the Javits Center; the other is to make something out of that space, which is so underutilized.”
But several sources who have seen Mr. Cross’ stadium plan-some from within the Jets’ organization, others from the outside-said it calls for building on the southwest corner of the site, opening up 34th Street to the Hudson River waterfront, and building a swath of parkland to take up the entire block between 33rd and 34th streets just east of the waterfront, which would provide pedestrian access to a planned Hudson River Park and the river for recreational uses.
The plan also calls for a stadium with a retractable dome-as it did before-but appears to suggest a stadium that could also serve the teams currently playing in Madison Square Garden, thus raising the prospect of a partnership with Charles Dolan’s Cablevision empire, of which the Garden and its teams are a part. That would open up a new financing opportunity, as Mr. Dolan could sell off the current Madison Square Garden site for development as office space.
“His proposal for a combined Garden-stadium is the most innovative approach to multi-purpose athletic facilities that we’ve seen,” said a source close to the Bloomberg administration. “It reinforces the use of the waterfront, it reinforces all of New York’s assets, [and] it creates a great public space for events.”
MadisonSquareGarden spokesman Barry Watkins wouldn’t say whether the Jets’ plan had made its way into Mr. Dolan’s office, but he didn’t rule out a combinedMadisonSquareGarden–Jets effort, either.
“We continue to explore all possibilities relating to a potential new Madison Square Garden,” Mr. Watkins said.
The Jets’ plan always called for massive investment by the team, but the Olympic plan called for the team to share the space with the Javits Convention Center and make the football stadium double as an exhibition floor, with a pedestrian walkway suspended over 34th Street connecting the convention center and the stadium. That plan could involve investment from the state, which controls the Javits Center.
But sources at the Javits Center say that plan never worked for them. They say exhibitors won’t bring shows to a space that has to be loaded in separate locations, or that requires exhibitors and guests to navigate walkways to get from one exhibition hall to another. While Jets sources insist they aren’t ruling out the possibility of a partnership with the Javits Center, the convention hall’s governing body appears unlikely to make use of the stadium in its own planned expansion.
Instead, the Javits Center-which was originally built with a northward expansion in mind-would expand northward into a site, the Yale building, which the state purchased from Larry Silverstein nearly three years ago. It could potentially expand even further north, into the undeveloped half of a property also owned by Mr. Silverstein (who, state officials suspect, may soon be in a selling mood). That would give the Javits Center a face on West 42nd Street, closer to the midtown hotels where the convention center’s exhibitors and visitors stay, for the most part.
“Something that tucks into 42nd Street at least brings you up into an area with more public transportation and cabs,” said a hotel-industry source who has been lobbying for movement on a Javits expansion.
The bid plan originally submitted to the Olympics Committee called for an Olympic stadium housed in a southward expansion of the Javits Center. Equally important, a large press center and an office tower billed as the International Broadcast Center-as well as a second arena, two hotels, and an eight-acre Olympic Park that would house the Olympic flame during the games-were all part of the plan. Getting this piece of the puzzle right is the most crucial element of the plan, since broadcast rights are the single largest source of income generated by the Olympics; they’re expected to rake in over $1 billion and cover half the cost of hosting the Games.
The Far West Side, as the area is called, has recently been defined by the city’s Economic Development Corporation as the 59-block area bounded on the east by Seventh and Eighth avenues, on the north by West 42nd Street, on the south by West 28th Street and West 24th Street, and on the west by the Hudson River. That area was the subject of a December 2001 study by the City Planning Commission, and more recently Mr. Doctoroff commissioned the Economic Research Associates and Cushman & Wakefield to study the feasibility of issuing bonds to encourage further development in the area, including an extension of the No. 7 line west and south from its current terminus at Times Square to encourage the development of a stadium, an expanded Javits Center and other new potential uses on the site. While no mention was made of the Olympic plan in materials distributed to the public about the upcoming study, few doubt that the study is meant to encourage the U.S. Olympics Committee evaluators.
Pencils Down, Please!
The committee is due to begin a tour of Washington, D.C., Houston, San Francisco and New York, the four cities that have advanced to the final stage of selection for a U.S. candidate to compete against formidable bids from London, Paris and Rome, among others. Committee members will arrive in New York on June 30 to spend two days touring the city’s proposed Olympic sites. Committee members will attempt to measure the progress of the Olympic plans in each of the four finalist cities since their bids were originally presented last July.
Now that the other players on the Far West Side appear to have diverged widely on how they can use the space, it’s unclear what the site might look like when-or if-the dragoons of international broadcasting descend 10 years hence.
Mr. Kriegel said that rather than concentrate on a finalized plan for the site, the city’s Olympic planners have been working to show that progress has been made in financing for the site.
“There has been real progress in moving [the Far West Side] project forward faster than at any time in the history of the city,” Mr. Kriegel said. “There is a growing consensus among a wide variety of people that this makes sense … and I see that everywhere. I think people really understand that this could be a really exciting project for the city’s future.”
Mr. Kriegel seemed to suggest that the terrorist attack of Sept. 11 would encourage Olympics officials to cast a sympathetic eye on the city’s efforts.
“After all, there have been tangible, pressing, serious needs in the city and the state since [the original bid], and the change in government-that’s monumental,” he said.
A major element of funding the massive infrastructure improvements called for in the Olympic plan is a scheme known elsewhere as tax-increment financing, which has been used in other cities but not yet employed here. Not coincidentally, studying the feasibility of tax-increment financing is one of the major charges facing the companies contracted to study improvements on the Far West Side.
It works like this: The city designates the area as a business improvement district and drafts a district-improvement plan that specifies the projects the city wants to fund. Projections of increased tax revenue in the district are then committed in advance to repay bonds issued by the city to make these capital improvements-especially transportation improvements-to serve the area.
But in doing so, the city sacrifices some control over the development of the site to the state. That’s because the plan would involve floating bonds for specific purposes, each of which have to be approved by the State Legislature.
“We realized there were other tremendous demands on public funds for transportation,” said Mr. Kriegel. “And we did not want to compete with those things. After 9/11, obviously, this is even more pressing …. This is a creative financing approach that allows you to invest in essential infrastructure, and this becomes a self-financing project.”
While the plan has met with success on individual projects elsewhere, it also invites a series of questions about how specific improvements may compete with each other throughout the city. For instance, everyone agrees that extending the No. 7 line west and south to 34th Street is necessary for the Far West Side to become an attractive development prospect. But the Metropolitan Transportation Authority is already studying huge capital projects like the proposed Rector Connector for lower Manhattan, the Second Avenue subway, the West Side–Metro North link, and the Long Island Railroad–lower Manhattan link, among others. There may not be enough money to finance an extension of the No. 7 train-or, if there is, to get the job done by 2012, however laudable the goal.
Nevertheless, Mr. Kriegel sees the Olympic plan moving ahead. “What we’ve got in the bid book is a conceptual plan of what the usages could be; the Jets are putting forward some more concrete work that achieves many of the same objectives,” he said. “It’s all part of a very constructive public dialogue.