Image of proposed West Side development looking south from 39th St. shows new offices, left, and an expanded Javits Center and new Olympics/Jets stadium, center.
Mayor Bloomberg is focused on revitalizing the west side in the 30s by expanding the Javits Center and building a new football stadium as the foundation for expanded residential and commercial development. By staking so much of his legacy on this West Side mega-project, the mayor must view the commercial potential of development at the W.T.C. as competition for his West Side plans and his Olympic dreams.
A lesson from listening to impassioned speeches in the aftermath of 9/11 is that most publicly stated positions are rationalizations for hidden agendas that are not quite so rational. To understand the mayors position on the W.T.C., we need first to evaluate his plans for the West Side, and then revisit his early comments in light of his newly exposed agenda.
The premise for successful development of the West Side is that the creation of two adjacent superblocks. A new Jets stadium along side the expanded Javits Convention Center will serve as the centerpiece for expanded commercial and residential development of the area. Extension of the 7 subway line would provide the single subway link to the area.
Stadiums do not revitalize neighborhoods. At best, they can provide life support for a comatose neighborhood, with just enough inflow of people and money to maintain basic retail. Residential neighborhoods may survive, but primarily for people who cant afford to move elsewhere. A stadium is an insurmountable barrier to movement dividing communities around it, much as freeways divided and killed sections of the Bronx. When in use, stadiums bring hoards of outsiders and strangers with no incentive to protect, maintain, or support local communities or businesses. People come, they party, and they leave. After the game, please, keep your sons and daughters in the apartment no offense meant to sports fans. I go to Knick games and love the crowds, but would never live next door to the Garden.
Convention centers do not support neighborhoods. Perhaps the mayor isnt aware of the reputation of conventioneers. Perhaps, he has always attended sophisticated, well-healed conventions. He should at least be aware that conventioneers like to smoke when they drink. They are also more likely to support a porn district than a residential community.
So discounting any hope for neighboring residential development, what are the commercial prospects? The key for filling office space is to draw corporations that want a convenient and desirable location for employees at a reasonable price. This proposed West side commercial center will be supported by a single subway line, making it a two-train commute for any New Yorker not living on the 7 line. It will even be a three train commute many commuters. When people arrive at work, they will butt up against acres of useless super blocks. Even access to the river will be blocked. The only draws for commercial workers will be the nondescript convention center restaurants and convenient evening concerts at the stadium.
An Olympic size leap of faith is needed to accept the reasoning behind this plan. Stadiums always cost taxpayers money. And this stadium is getting a prime asset, Manhattan waterfront property, cheap. These rights should be auctioned off competitively to the highest bidder, not delivered with a handshake in a behind the scenes deal. Dont even think about the economic morality of subsidizing rich team owners so they can pay more for obscenely compensated athletes. And even if the convention center generates entertainment and tax dollars, it will not contribute to local development. Has the mayor not noticed that the existing Javits Center generates nothing for the area? More Javits Center will generate more nothing.
How does this all relate to the W.T.C.? If nothing else, Mayor Bloomberg understands market competition. The plans for the W.T.C. are strategic and tactical competition with his West Side plan. Office space in the two areas would come into the market in the same time frame. Downtown already has very competitively priced real estate, so there is no hope for a West side price advantage. In every other way, the West side will face an uphill fight against the W.T.C. The W.T.C. is already hugely connected to subways. The street life deficiencies we now face Downtown will fade away in a few years with the completion of the Freedom Tower and surrounding retail areas. The W.T.C. will have a historic plaza and easy access to Tribeca restaurants. The West Side will have the Javits and the Jets. Where would you locate your office, if you owned a company? Where would you rather work?
So what might Mayor Bloomberg and Dan Doctoroff be up to? Doctoroff ran NYC 2012 before becoming Mayor Bloombergs deputy mayor for economic development and rebuilding. He is on a long and determined quest to draw the Olympics. He has now gotten Mayor Bloomberg not only to sign on, but to place West Side development alongside running the school system as his two seminal challenges and achievements as mayor. Getting the Olympics to N.Y.C. would give both of these wealthy men great international exposure. To do this, they need sports facilities, hotels, and convention space. To finance this, they need funds from the sale of commercial and residential development rights on the West side, state and city money, and the political clout to pass tax increment funding. They are already planning to divert money from the Battery Park City Authority with the apparent complicity of the B.P.C.A. To have any chance of success selling the complete West Side commercial package, the W.T.C. plans must change dramatically or fail spectacularly.
In this context, lets revisit the mayors suggestions for the W.T.C. He wants to eliminate what could be spectacular, vital super-blocks and replace them with narrow crowded Downtown streets. He wants to force commuters to street level and expand sidewalks to support them. This will, of course, reduce space for commercial buildings, already crowded by the expansive memorial. The mayors vision for the W.T.C. is far less than what the W.T.C. was pre 9/11 and much less what it could be.
The mayor may not actually want to weaken the W.T.C. to support his Olympic dreams. He may simply be a very bad city planner. But the W.T.C. and the West Side will compete for commercial tenants, reducing the value of West Side development rights. The mayor needs to sell these rights to fund the project. His W.T.C. plans will reduce the competitive commercial presence of the W.T.C. Recovering from our nations largest domestic attack is apparently less important than a couple weeks of games in 2012.
Based on the possibility that the mayor has been blinded by his Olympic ambitions, I give the following advice. The Lower Manhattan Development Corp. and Port Authority should thank the mayor kindly for his advice and put up some roadblocks between City Hall and the W.T.C. Governor Pataki, please dont stand behind the mayor when he discusses city planning and the development of the West Side. Your credibility will be hurt by association. New Yorkers beware of the downside of men so rich they are not beholden to anyone. Their only true objective may be to further enhance their own egos.
Before this recent display of poor judgment at the W.T.C. and on the West side, I was a moderate Bloomberg supporter. But when a man works to lessen W.T.C. commercial development, while professing the contrary, to support a very unpopular and poorly conceived west side development using funds from a residential community (Battery Park City) that desperately needs the W.T.C. development; I would suggest that his drive to immortalize his name on a sports stadium has blinded him to the citys priorities. He is squandering city assets on his personal ambitions.
David Stanke is co-president of BPC United, a group of Downtown residents, and can be reached at bpcunited@ ebond.com.