West Side Story
By Kevin Newell
Jets Insider.com Head Writer
May 21st, 2004
From the years of sharing time with the Mets at Shea Stadium Ė and playing on the road until the baseball season ceased Ė to commuting to New Jersey and suiting up in a stadium named for the other New York professional football franchise, Gang Greenís proverbial home field advantage has been virtually non-existent.
All of that is about to change, if the proposed $1.4 billion stadium project on Manhattan's West Side comes to fruition. While a majority of New York City officials, including Mayor Bloomberg, and the Jets organization are hell bent on making it a reality, there are many opponents against breaking ground between 11th and 12th avenues and 30th and 33rd streets, the site of the Jets future palace beginning in 2009. To further ingratiate themselves with community leaders, the Jets have proposed spending an unprecedented $800 million in private funds for the new stadium, with the city and state spending $300 million each for a retractable roof and a platform over the existing, archaic rail yards.
The building, whose design is the brainchild of local New York architectural firm Kohn Pedersen Fox, is the most ambitious and creative state-of-the-art stadium ever to be built in US sports history. The rectangular structure will fit 75,000 fans on gameday and is designed to fit seamlessly into the city grid. It also has several innovative features that include wind turbines and solar collector tubes to generate much of its own electricity and hot water.
Still, the opposition maintains there is a better, more cost efficient alternative, that being the Willets Point section of Queens Ė a Hail Maryís throw from Shea.
All things considered, the positives far outweigh the negatives. First and foremost, the Jets would be playing in the greatest stadium ever constructed. A place to call their very own. Second, a West Side stadium complex would create jobs and revitalize a shoddy area of the Big Apple. Itís estimated that the new building would create at least 7,000 permanent and 18,000 construction jobs.
Itís a forgone conclusion that New York would become part of both the Super Bowl and Final Four rotation. How much of an economic boon would two weeks of Super Bowl hysteria provide to the cityís coffers?
Jets' fans are split on the proposed West Side stadium. While some love the thought of finally having a true home, others have reservations and obvious trepidations. However, they're willing to make sacrifices.
"I love the fact that I won't have to travel to New Jersey," says Anthony Giliberto, a season ticket holder from Long Island. "But I'm not sure this stadium is going to get built. I would love to see this in Flushing, but that remains to be seen. Not only that, we won't be able to tailgate. It is going to be very expensive for a hamburger and a beer. My kids love to play football in the parking lot. That said, the Jets need a home, so if it costs me a few dollars more, it's worth it. My kids will have to settle for a catch on the Long Island Rail Road."
Here is this writer's opinion: The West Side facility is without a doubt the place to be. The stadium would be the crown jewel of the NFL. The envy of every other organization and city. The mecca of the gridiron globe. Every artist's rendition is breathtaking. It reminds me of the first time I saw the city of Oz in the Wizard of Oz.
As for Queens - been there, done that. Manhattan is the capital of the world. The center of attention. What better place for a football team? We are, after all, the New York Jets. Jets fans deserve this for all we have endured.
Just look at the revitalization downtown stadiums such as Camden Yards and Ford Field have spawned in former decaying areas of Baltimore and Detroit, respectively. Those cities pale in comparison to the Big Apple.
The bottom line is our owner, Woody Johnson, is willing to shell out $800 million of his own money to help finance the stadium. Think about that for a moment and let it sink in. Which owner in professional sports has ever put up that much cash to build a stadium for his fans? Answer: none. I don't know about you, but that means an awful lot to me. Furthermore, by making this kind financial commitment, Woody has the right to put the building where he feels he will get the best return on his investment. Ask yourself this questionÖ.if you were making a huge investment in a business, where would you rather have it, Manhattan or Queens? I think any person with any type of business experience would choose Manhattan hands down.
This will be just as much our stadium, a place and source of great pride.
Yes, there are questions that have yet to be answered, and need to be answered. Will the average working stiff have to take out a second mortgage in order to secure PSL's? Will long-time season ticket holders have their seats reassigned to the vast, upper regions of the colossal expanse in order to accommodate corporate hoity-toity?
Game tickets could easily be $100 a pop and more. Then there are the peripheral costs: parking, ferry service, and concession food prices. All could be exorbitant, to be sure. Fans always feel the pinch. Always have, always will.
The issue of tailgating is also a big question that looms in most fans minds. Will it be the same as the Meadowlands parking lot? No. However, there will be options and fans will adapt. If there is one thing that has impressed me as a Jets fan my whole life itís the resourcefulness of my Gang Green brethren.
But when we're all sitting in our seats, craning our necks at the beauty and sheer brilliance of the "House That Woody Built," we can fold our arms, cross our legs, and soak it all in. Home sweet home!
Jets Insider.com recently spoke with Matt Higgins, who joined the Jets on Feb. 12 as Vice President of Strategic Planning for the Wide Side Stadium, to get the inside story on the project and what it means to Jets Nation.
Higgins was the former COO of the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, from the inception of rebuilding Ground Zero through Feb. 2002. He has vast experience with big projects and development efforts in New York City, both from the political side and the media side. Higgins started with the LMDC as the VP/Communications. Prior to that, he was press secretary for former Mayor Rudy Giuliani.
JI: Once and for all, why does Manhattan make more sense than Queens?
MH: There are two ways to look at it: Why does it make more sense for the Jets and why does it make more sense for the public?
From the public perspective, this location is a big gaping hole in the middle of what should be a thriving, bustling community. Itís remained that way because of the rail yards. So this is an area in need of revitalization.
In terms of whereís the best location to put the Jets, you could build an open-air stadium with no other uses. But that might not be the best investment for the public. Itís much better, we believe, if the stadium is linked as part of an overall vision for a convention corridor.
On the West Side, it will be linked to the Javits Center. It will incorporate a 200,000-square foot convention center. It will also have a retractable roof that will enable New York to vie for the Super Bowl, the Final Four, and other events. So if you add up all of the various uses, bringing the Jets home, and a multi-use facility, which is really only possible on the West Side, it generates about $75 million dollars in economic impact. In order to generate that $75 million, the city and state needs to invest about $40 million a year. So it creates a net benefit of $35 million a year.
If you were to look at Queens for comparison purposes, there youíd likely have an open-air stadium. Or you might have an enclosure. But regardless, you wouldnít have the multi-use facility that would include the convention center. So it becomes a money loser in Queens.
In terms of the benefit for the community, in Queens youíre generating 18,000 cars. In Manhattan, itís 7,000. You have nine modes of transportation within a few minutes of the West Side facility. You have only about two in Queens.
In terms of the Jets, we want to put our investment - $800,000 million Ė the largest in history Ė in the place where it makes the most sense and where we have the greatest chance of receiving a return on that investment. And thatís on the West Side of Manhattan, for a variety of reasons, including luxury suites.
Forty percent of our fans come from New Jersey, so itís logical they would be interested in suites, as well as our fan base on Long Island.
JI: Jets president Jay Cross was interviewed last season on WFAN and was absolutely undressed by Mike Francessa and Chris Russo. At the time, Cross didnít seem prepared to combat the barrage of negativity nor promote the positives of the stadium. How do the Jets plan to counteract the negative publicity and really get their message out?
MH: We have all these various constituencies that have an interest in the project, one of the most important being the fans. We are about to undertake a more aggressive outreach effort to our fans to coincide with the upcoming season.
Weíre going to send information to our season-ticket holders on a regular basis that will tell them the benefits of the new stadium proposal.
● How will I get to the new facility?
Weíre just going to do a better job of getting that message out. Weíre also going to reach out through the airwaves. So we are going to go about it two ways: directly and through the media.
JI: What kind of demographics have the Jets done regarding their season-ticket/fan base in relation to traffic patterns in and around the West Side stadium?
MH: We did a survey about a year ago to get a sense of our fansí traffic patterns if we put the facility on the West Side of Manhattan, because there seems to be this perception that the stadium would create a traffic nightmare.
The survey indicated that 70% of our fans said they would in fact commute via mass transit to the facility, while 30% said they would still drive, and that amounts to 7,000 cars.
Some people questioned that number so we decided to do a poll of all New Yorkers, since many of them would use the facility for other events. We did several polls and the numbers consistently came in at 70%.
JI: Is this part of the telemarketing survey currently being conducted, where Jetsí season ticket holders are being asked various questions about the proposed stadium?
MH: The survey youíre referring to is part of the Environmental Review Process. It is part of the project, but itís not being conducted by the Jets.
JI: Obviously, some fans have strong reservations about the West Side stadium due to the proposed lack of tailgating space. Yet, some Jets executives have said that tailgating shouldnít be an issue, citing the fans resourcefulness. How do you the Jets plan to appease the fans regarding this important issue? And why should fans have to settle for eating at future area restaurants and paying exorbitant stadium food prices instead of the weekly tradition of grilling and chilling?
MH: We recognize that tailgating is a long and important tradition that people feel very strongly about. We also recognize that fans feel very strongly about having their own facility. So there has to be some trade off, no doubt.
We are looking at different ways to preserve that tradition in some ways. And that may include providing tailgating facilities on the [New] Jersey side [of the Hudson River], so people can board ferries and come to the games. So weíre going to come up with some innovative ways. At the same time, there will be great events in the bars and restaurants surrounding the facility. There will also probably be provisions for picnicking outdoors.
Weíll make provisions. Once we do those things, the issue will fade away to some extent.
JI: Has there been any mention of Personal Seat Licenses in the new stadium and, if so, what are the ramifications for season ticket holders?
MH: Jay Cross has said he is well aware of the controversial nature of PSLís, but itís too early to comment on them.
JI: Currently, many fans experience face nightmarish commutes to Giants Stadium, what with traffic on the George Washington Bridge, Rt. 80, Rt. 95, and Routes 3 and 17, among others. How can the Jets justify the proposed stadium site to their fans based on the current transportation problems around the Jacob Javits Center.
MH: Our feeling is this is Manhattan. It has the transportation infrastructure, the mass transit infrastructure, in place, to accommodate the vehicles that will come into the city for a game.
On a weekday, that transportation infrastructure handles hundreds of thousands of people. On a weekend, itís under utilized. Weíre going to do the best we can to mitigate the impact of it Ė certainly that one hour before the game and one hour after.
We believe that an urban stadium should be the model if it has the transportation infrastructure in place.
JI: Despite the stadium controversy, should Jets fans take into consideration that their team and its owner are willing to lay out an unprecedented down payment in the annals of sports in order to provide them with a state-of-the-art facility?
MH: We would hope so. We believe the even stronger positive influence is the fans to know that they are going to get a state-of-the-art facility unlike any other in the world. Itís going to be a great fan experience. Something they should also know is that we donít plan to finance this on the backs of our season ticket holders. Thatís not the model.
JI: Why do you feel the West Side stadium has caused so much controversy and at times negativity?
MH: Weíre trying to build this facility in the capital of the world. There hasnít been a new stadium built in New York in 40 years [Shea Stadium].
There is often an anti-development undercurrent that runs in the city. Thatís why there hasnít been a lot of progress on the West Side in that particular area. This is to be kind of expected. Weíre prepared for the debate. Weíre ready for it. We believe we have a strong case to make.
This doesnít really bother me. Iíve seen it in other projects that Iíve been involved with and I donít think the level of opposition is extraordinary. In fact, I think itís mostly confined to the local community Ė some people who have rejected other types of development in the past.
In terms of our fans, I think we need to do a better job communicating what the benefits will be from a fanís perspective. And one of the reasons we havenít is that the project is still in flux, itís still in development. But as we head to this upcoming season weíll be in a better position to get the message out.