By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
Some items you may not have heard amid the media blitz surrounding Hudson Yards, the stadium/convention center/office park that Deputy Mayor Dan Doctoroff hopes will soon grow like crabgrass across Manhattan's West Side: At an estimated cost of $5.5 billion and rising, it would be the most expensive city construction undertaking in recent memory. The New York Jets' stadium itself, at $1.4 billion, would be the most expensive sports stadium ever built, blasting past such monuments to excess as Philadelphia's half-billion-dollar Lincoln Financial Field and Montreal's billion-loonie Big O(we). And of that, $600 million would come out of city and state treasuries, amounting to the largest stadium subsidy in U.S. history.
Perhaps it's a measure of the power of Doctoroff's ingratiating grinor of the anesthetizing effect of the Olympics, which, it is promised, Hudson Yards will bring to New York in 2012that such a plan, in the wake of a city budget crisis, has gotten this far with relatively little public outcry. The clamor, though, is likely to soon get louder: Elected officials are only now noticing that the West Side plans would largely evade legislative oversight, even as the Independent Budget Office and the city comptroller prepare responses to Doctoroff's acres of Excel spreadsheets. Meanwhile, the city's other sports teams are readying demands for their own new pleasure palacesa string of buildings that could leave the city on the hook for a staggering $2 billion or more in stadium taxes. For a man who claimed last December that "we don't have the money to go out and build new stadiums," Bloomberg could be about to launch the stadium juggernaut that his Gracie Mansion predecessor never got off the ground.
Under normal circumstances, a project of this size would be expected to navigate a byzantine path through the City Council and state legislature. But while Bloomberg promised in February that "nobody is trying to cut anyone out" of decision making, by using the quasi-public Hudson Yards Infrastructure Corporation the city would in fact largely evade public scrutiny. This is where the switch from TIFs to PILOTs, which occupied the better part of Doctoroff's 2003, is crucial: While not empowered to spend tax money, development corporations can exempt developers from property taxes if the developers agree to pay them voluntary "fees"effectively picking the city's pocket of property-tax revenue without needing a specific vote by the council. If the gambit is successful, a handful of council zoning votes and obscure MTA committees could end up deciding the fate of the West Side and billions in public money.
Opposition would largely fall to West Side residents, including Broadway theater owners and garment workers who fear the impact on rents in neighboring districts. The biggest obstacle, though, could be bond buyers, who finance experts say could balk at the PILOT plan, which for collateral would rely on revenues from 28 million square feet of office space being built by unnamed developers, with the first building not even going up until 2010.