Volume 17 • Issue 6 | July 2 - 8, 2004

Downtown threatened by stadium plan, opponents say

By Albert Amateau

The city and state drive to build a 75,000-seat stadium over the West Side rail yards stalled last week when a State Assembly committee refused to back a financing bill for the Javits Convention Center expansion unless it dropped all possible references to the stadium.

The end of the state legislative session on June 23 meant the matter was dead, at least until the Legislature reconvenes this month to act on unfinished business, including the budget — late for the 20th consecutive year – as well as the Javits expansion.

The setback cheered West Side residents who packed a June 21 hearing on the financing bill conducted by Assembly-member Richard Brodsky of Westchester. Residents from the Village to Clinton, supported by their elected officials, fear the proposed stadium would create overwhelming traffic problems in an already congested area.

Members of the committee, including Assemblymembers Richard Gottfried and Deborah Glick, said the bill, presented by the city and state to finance the Javits Center expansion, contained loopholes that would also authorize the operation of the stadium, designed to serve as the home of the Jets football team as well as for Convention Center uses.

Glick, whose district includes Tribeca and part of Battery Park City, also suggested that financing the stadium could jeopardize the city and state effort to rebuild Lower Manhattan. But Deputy Mayor Dan Doctoroff, the prime mover of the city-sponsored Hudson Yards redevelopment with a stadium and an expanded Javits center, replied that funds to rebuild Lower Manhattan are protected.

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver has said the West Side plan, which depends on constructing office space, could compete with the efforts to rebuild offices at the World Trade Center site.

Doctoroff also defended the proposal to use $350 million from Battery Park City excess funds to back the bonds for the Javits expansion. He said the Battery Park City funds would be used only to secure the convention center expansion and not the stadium.

“We have to make it clear that the Javits Center expansion has nothing to do with a stadium,” Gottfried said last week.

An alternative bill, which state and city officials said dropped references to the stadium, also found disfavor with elected officials who said that stadium loopholes remained. “This is not what I would characterize as a clean bill,” said Brodsky.

While financing the stadium would eventually require legislation, Doctoroff and Anita Laremont, counsel to the Empire State Development Corp., said construction of stadium, to be built on a platform above the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s West Side rail yards, requires neither legislation nor review. It only requires assent by the M.T.A., they added.

“I gather you don’t need legislation to build the stadium, but you need legislation to operate it,” said Brodsky at the June 21 hearing, drawing laughter from the West Side residents who dominated the audience at the Fashion Institute of Technology.

However, Doctoroff replied, “We don’t even need legislation to operate it. We need the legislation to make it work as part of the convention center.”

There is widespread support for the northward expansion of the Javits Center, but opposition to the stadium is growing. The Regional Plan Association, comprised of architects and planners, and the city’s Independent Budget Office, have written reports critical of the stadium. The New York Public Interest Research Group, which includes the Straphangers Campaign, came out against the stadium.
Cablevision, which owns Madison Square Garden, has launched a television ad campaign against the stadium.

Richard Ravitch, a former chairperson of the M.T.A. speaking individually, declared at the hearing that the stadium could start “a slide down the slippery slope that led to the 1970s crisis” for the authority that runs the transit system. “Is the M.T.A. going to get full value for its property, and is the project going to involve the M.T.A. and the public transit system in debt for the stadium?” Ravitch asked.

Supporters of the stadium, for which the Jets would contribute $800 million, say it would be used as a football stadium for 17 days a year at the most. The rest of the year it would serve as an adjunct to the convention center. Opponents, however, question the propriety of devoting city and state money, estimated at $600 million, for what they contend is really a private-sector enterprise.

Opponents are also disappointed that there are no specific provisions for community review of the Javits expansion, much less the stadium. However, the proposed rezoning of the Hudson Yards district is undergoing the city’s Uniform Land Use Review Procedure and a Draft Environmental Impact Statement has been issued.

Stadium opponents say among the objectionable aspects of the convention center financing bill is a provision that any legal challenge to the project would skip the State Supreme Court and go directly to the Appellate Division. That provision is designed to expedite legal proceedings in connection with the Javits expansion.

A group of environmental organizations, including the Natural Resources Defense Council, the League of Conservation Voters, the Atlantic Chapter of the Sierra Club, the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, Environmental Defense and Environmental Advocates, issued a June 17 statement against the proposal to skip State Supreme Court in any judicial review of the convention center expansion.

Walter Mankoff, chairperson of Community Board 4, whose district includes the West Side rail yards as well as the Javits center and the Hudson Yards redevelopment area, said the board supports an expansion of the Javits center. But he reiterated the board’s long-standing opposition to the stadium.

“Adding traffic to that already coming from the West Side Highway, Lincoln Tunnel and the Port Authority Bus Terminal, a stadium will bring traffic nightmares when it is in use,” Mankoff said. “When not in use, the stadium area will be desolate and will discourage badly needed commercial and residential development,” he said.


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