History Lesson

West Side stories

A new stadium for the Jets is crucial, the Bloomberg administration argues, in order to jump-start long-stalled development atop the West Side rail yards. "Eighty years of history demonstrates that there was not a lot of interest [there]," Deputy Mayor Daniel Doctoroff told a City Council hearing last week.

In fact, the recent past of the Hudson rail yards is littered with failed attempts at vast new projects. None other than the former owners of Madison Square Garden proposed in the mid 1980s that they be allowed to construct a "world-class sports and entertainment center" above the yards. The Garden, owned at the time by Gulf+Western Inc., proposed that, using private funds, it would create a new arena there, along with a huge office and apartment complex built by the real estate firm Olympia and York.

Former MTA chairman Richard Ravitch said that legendary New York sports executive (and former Jets owner) Sonny Werblin personally broached the idea to him. The plan fell apart, however, when the City Planning Commission said the proposed zoning was too dense. (Last month the city approved a zoning density at twice that level for most of the rail yards.) Another former suitor for the site, Ravitch said, was the American Stock Exchange.

Thirty years earlier, in 1956, another renowned New Yorker, William Zeckendorf Sr., proposed an even more grandiose plan for the yards: a new convention hall, a merchandise mart, and a "Television City." Proving that there are no new ideas under the sun, the master builder also wanted to erect the world's tallest skyscraper there. He called it "Freedom Tower" and it was to stand 1,750 feet tall—just 26 feet shorter than the Freedom Tower envisioned by architect Daniel Libeskind for the World Trade Center site.

 
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