N.Y. mayor in battle over stadium plan

Bloomberg stakes legacy on West Side facility

December 12, 2004|By Josh Getlin | Josh Getlin,LOS ANGELES TIMES

NEW YORK - When Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg proposed a $1.4 billion sports stadium for Manhattan's West Side this year, New Yorkers braced for a battle that could last months, even years.

But few people expected that the idea would lead to an $11 million advertising war on television and radio, a clash between the mayor and one of the city's corporate giants, and an unusual level of vitriol, even by Big Apple standards.

The conflict over the West Side stadium is linked to the fate of New York's bid to hold the 2012 Summer Olympics; Bloomberg has called the facility central to the city's proposal.

It has also become an issue in next year's mayoral race, with many of Bloomberg's opponents attacking the stadium even before they have declared their candidacies.

A decision on the sweeping project, which requires approval by the City Council and state Legislature, is not expected until next year.

"This is unprecedented for New York. We're in for a very nasty fight," said former Mayor Edward I. Koch about the bickering over the plan to revitalize the last undeveloped slice of Manhattan.

In addition to a new home for the New York Jets, Bloomberg's vision includes building high-rises and a $2 billion subway extension.

What makes the conflict different, observers say, is the involvement of Cablevision Systems Corp., the owner of Madison Square Garden and the New York Knicks basketball team. James Dolan, the company's chairman and chief executive, has led an aggressive campaign against the stadium, which would be four blocks from the Garden and would create major competition for him.

Unlike previous land-use disputes in New York, where opponents of huge projects have typically been community groups and public interest attorneys, Cablevision has spent $8.2 million on ads that attack the proposed stadium and ridicule Bloomberg as a billionaire mayor out of touch with the average New Yorker.

War of words

In response, the Jets and other groups have spent $3.1 million on their own ads, praising the stadium as an economic boon to New York. Also, Bloomberg has attacked Cablevision as a monolith that wants to block development for selfish purposes.

The mayor recently ripped into Dolan, pointing out that Cablevision gets an $11 million annual tax break from the city. "If they spent $11 million more on the Knicks," Bloomberg said, "maybe the Knicks would be a better team, and that would fill Madison Square Garden."

Dolan accused the mayor of using "voodoo economics" to sell the stadium proposal to voters, calling it a "flawed and financially risky plan."

Recently, the city's planning commission - overseen by the mayor - approved the sweeping rezoning plan for the far West Side. Under New York law, the City Council will have to vote on the proposal sometime in late January. Approval would also have to come from the Legislature, which controls the land on which the stadium would be built.

"This is really heating up, because you have two heavyweights, Bloomberg and Cablevision, duking it out every day on television," said Douglas Muzzio, a professor at Baruch College. "The stakes are very, very high for the mayor."

Getting the Olympics

Indeed, Bloomberg has staked much of his mayoral legacy on a successful campaign to win the 2012 Summer Olympics for New York. He has said from the beginning that the West Side stadium is the centerpiece of the proposal.

Under the plan, which was unveiled in March, the city and state would each contribute $300 million to the development, while the Jets would pay $800 million. The domed facility would be linked to an expansion of the adjacent Jacob K. Javits Convention Center.

The project, Bloomberg says, would trigger an economic boom in the area, which is filled with vacant lots and small businesses and has relatively few full-time residents. New York City would pay for the project by diverting future tax proceeds from new high-rise buildings and other developments into a special fund, he says.

Critics say New York should not spend so much on a football stadium, no matter where the money comes from, because public schools, police and city services are strapped for cash. They also believe that the city's chances of getting the 2012 Games are marginal, and suggest the stadium has little support.

"New Yorkers want the Olympics, but there is little love for the proposed West Side stadium," said Maurice Carroll, director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute.

In a recent Quinnipiac poll, New Yorkers opposed the stadium 77 percent to 17 percent if existing city funds were used to pay for it. But if new revenue paid for the project, respondents supported it 57 percent to 39 percent, the poll found.

"The mayor has tough choices ahead of him," said political consultant Hank Sheinkopf. "At some point, he has to decide if it's worth continuing to fight for the stadium, especially if the city doesn't get the Olympics bid and he suffers politically."

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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