Posted 12/5/2004 11:10 PM Updated 12/5/2004 11:16 PM

Sides square off over New York stadium
By Charisse Jones, USA TODAY

NEW YORK On the narrow isle of Manhattan, where battles over development are like blood sport, a fight is being waged over building on the Hudson River what would be the nation's most expensive football stadium.

The $1.4 billion project would be home to the New York Jets football team and an Olympic Stadium if New York City were chosen to host the 2012 games. Skirmishing over the idea has pitted Mayor Michael Bloomberg against James Dolan, chief executive of Cablevision. The company owns Madison Square Garden and is funding a television and billboard campaign against the stadium.

"There's going to always be politics about any development in a city that's so densely settled," says Steven Cohen, a public administration professor at Columbia University. "But this particular one has a lot of money running on it and certainly a lot of money being spent on advertising."Across the country, stadiums are often a source of contention, with critics and economists questioning whether the investment is economically beneficial in the end. In the past decade, high-capacity stadiums have been built in Seattle, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Baltimore and about a dozen other major metropolitan areas. In Washington, D.C., officials are considering whether to build a baseball stadium along the Anacostia River as the home of the district's new National League franchise, the former Montreal Expos.Though New York officials would like construction to begin by July, the project must still clear several hurdles. Empire State Development, the state economic development agency, is expected to vote on the plan in January, followed by the Public Authorities Control board, which must give unanimous support.

Approval also is needed from several other entities, including the state Legislature and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, says Jay Cross, president of the Jets. And there may be lawsuits filed by stadium opponents.

Key to hosting 2012 Olympics

"It's taken us four years to get to this point," says Cross, who remains optimistic the stadium will be built. "I like to say we're in field-goal range. Maybe we're not yet in the red zone, but we're on the right side of the 50-yard line."

The project dubbed the New York Sports and Convention Center because it would serve as a 75,000-seat stadium, a meeting space for conventions and a 180,000-square-foot exhibit hall remains engulfed in controversy.A poll taken in November by Quinnipiac University found that 55% of New York City adults were against the stadium, while 39% supported it. But when asked whether they would support the project if it generated enough revenue to repay the money the city and state contribute to building it, 57% said they would be for it; 39% opposed it.

Bloomberg and other city and state officials who support the stadium say it would generate 7,000 permanent jobs, bring in roughly $75 million a year in new tax revenue and be a linchpin to the redevelopment of a 59-block area along Manhattan's far West Side.The stadium also is critical if New York wants to win its bid to host the 2012 Summer Olympic Games, says Deputy Mayor Dan Doctoroff. "If we cannot demonstrate to the international Olympic community that we will have an Olympic stadium and this is our only real option we won't win," he says.

Although the football team has pledged to pay at least $800 million for the stadium, city and state officials emphasize that the team would use it only 10 days a year. Most of the time, the venue would supplement the Jacob K. Javits center as a site for conventions and trade shows that would bring in much of its revenue.

The opposition

But Cablevision's Dolan and other critics say that at a time when the city is facing a projected $3 billion budget gap for the next fiscal year, the $300 million the city and state each plan to contribute to the stadium would be better spent on schools, police and other services."We believe it's a terrible use of scarce public financial resources," says Anna Levin, a member of the New York Association for Better Choices, which opposes the project.

City and state officials say revenue generated by the stadium could be used to fund education and the fire department. They also say Dolan's main concern is that the stadium would compete with Madison Square Garden."They don't care about spending public money, and they certainly don't care about preserving public resources when they're the recipient of an $11 million tax break," Doctoroff says. "From the mayor's perspective, I don't think it's personal. He feels a self-interested corporation is trying to deprive New York City of more than a billion dollars of revenue and thousands and thousands of jobs. ... He's fighting for the people of New York."

Levin says many community members are worried a new stadium would create traffic congestion, be a barrier to the waterfront and very possibly fail to meet projected revenue goals."It's about hocking our financial future for a facility that's going to be of benefit to a relatively small number of people," Levin says.

And then there is the question of financial viability.

"There's almost always a controversy because economists are not convinced that the economic payoff of these large-scale infrastructure investments really work," Cohen says.

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