Ambitious NYC Sports Facility Proposals Raise Questions

Wed April 21, 2004 - Northeast Edition

NEW YORK (AP) Ambitious plans for a Jets football stadium in Manhattan and a Nets basketball arena in Brooklyn could transform two underdeveloped neighborhoods — and give New York sports fans indisputable bragging rights over their friends in New Jersey, where both teams now play.

Or both projects could stall over traffic congestion, the loss of homes and businesses to the power of eminent domain and what critics see as the unseemliness of spending tax dollars on stadiums while schools and other city services go begging.

“We’re not refugees camping out in tents,” said David Sheets, who lives in a four-story brick rooming house that would meet the wrecking ball under developer Bruce Ratner’s plan for a Nets arena. “It angers me that I have to explain to people … why they should not come in and tear down our homes.”

On Manhattan’s West Side, City Councilwoman Christine Quinn vowed to fight the proposed $1.4-billion Jets stadium “on the Council, in the streets and in the courts, if necessary.”

“The New York City taxpayer is being asked to subsidize a football team at the same exact time that cuts throughout the budget are leaving our schools and health care system short-handed,” Quinn said after Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Gov. George Pataki announced details of the stadium plan on March 25.

A Quinnipiac University poll found that 60 percent of New Yorkers don’t want public funds spent on the Jets stadium while 59 percent oppose using tax money for a Nets arena in Brooklyn.

Neither facility has to go before the voters in a referendum but their backers are courting public opinion nonetheless, as both projects could be delayed by lawsuits or by opposition from city and state legislators who can rule over zoning and parts of the financial packages.

Delay would be especially costly to the West Side stadium because in addition to providing a home for the Jets, it is key to the city’s bid for the 2012 Summer Olympics.

New York is one of nine cities vying for the 2012 Games. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) executive board will decide in May whether to accept all nine bids or trim the field to around half a dozen, and the full IOC will choose one city in July 2005.

The proposed Jets stadium is part of a redevelopment plan for a vast stretch of Manhattan’s far West Side that city officials see as the last remaining tract of available real estate close to midtown.

The plan includes extending the No. 7 subway line and building 28 million sq. ft. of new office space over the next 30 years.

The Jets stadium, officially called the New York Sports and Convention Center, would double as convention and exhibition space. Its construction would be linked to the expansion of the nearby Jacob K. Javits Convention Center, which tourism officials said is too small to book major events.

The stadium would cost $1.4 billion, of which the Jets are promising $800 million. The city and state would spend $300 million each for a deck over existing rail yards and a retractable roof.

Bloomberg promised to bring the Jets “home where they belong, capturing millions of dollars a year and thousands of jobs now lost across the river.”

But the price tag dwarfs the going rate for stadiums. A new stadium for the Arizona Cardinals is due to open in 2006 — also with a retractable roof — at a cost of $360 million.

“The amount of money involved in the Jets deal is staggering. There’s no way around that,” said Tim Chapin, an assistant professor of urban planning at Florida State University.

In Brooklyn, Ratner has not yet announced the financing of his project or separated out the cost of the Nets arena from his $2.5-billion plan for commercial and residential development.

The complex — including 2.1 million sq. ft. of office space and 4,500 apartments — is to be designed by Frank Gehry, renowned for the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao and the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles.

Bruce Bender, an executive vice president at the developer’s Forest City Ratner Cos., said the arena would be financed through sales tax from concessions and income tax from the players.

The arena would be built over rail yards at Flatbush and Atlantic Avenues, next door to where the Dodgers once planned a stadium before abandoning Brooklyn for Los Angeles.

Forest City Ratner officials estimate that approximately 150 residential units and several businesses will have to be demolished to make way for their plans.

Bender said the developer is “trying to minimize condemnation of people who live here” because “it’s counterproductive to our objectives.”