Stopping a Stadium

Heroes had different motives, but they shared scorn for the Jets deal

In the doomed deal to use state money to build a West Side stadium, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver wasn't alone: There was a lot in the plan not to like and plenty of people who didn't like it.

They all had their reasons—civic virtue wasn't the only force—but to those living next to where the New York Sports and Convention Center would have risen, motives didn't matter. "We all want to protect our interests here," Anna Levin, one of the Hell's Kitchen residents who battled the proposal, tells the Voice. "Everyone's got self-interest. There's nothing wrong with that."

While they are worried that a West Side stadium plan could rise again, last week was a time for the anti-stadium forces to savor victory and for Mayor Michael Bloomberg to mourn defeat—at least until the mayor cobbled together the Queens plan.

Somebody up there likes us: Opponents of the West Side stadium celebrate in Albany on June 6.
photo: Kenan Rubenstein
Somebody up there likes us: Opponents of the West Side stadium celebrate in Albany on June 6.


Stadium Fiasco:

  • The Hucksters
    The people who tried to sell you the world's most expensive stadium
    By Tom Robbins

  • A Queens Ransom
    The Mets are in and the Jets are out, but where do the taxpayers fit in?
    By Neil deMause
  • At one point, the mayor lamented that our great metropolis had "lost a little bit of our spirit to go ahead and our can-do attitude." But the opponents of the West Side stadium would disagree. Against the combined power of the governor, the billionaire mayor, U.S. Olympic officialdom, a wealthy team owner, the National Football League, and the construction union, a motley cast prevailed. Here they are, in no particular order:

    RICHARD RAVITCH: Dubbed the elder statesman of the opposition, the former Metropolitan Transportation Authority chairman was a lone public voice of skepticism from the development world. He tells the Voice that he was most irked by the risk that the MTA would get shorted on the deal. "The idea of conveying that property at less than market value was not in the interest of the city and the transit agency," Ravitch says. That simple critique stuck, especially when subway problems arose to highlight the MTA's financial woes.

    REGIONAL PLAN ASSOCIATION: When other civic organizations were taking a hands-off approach to the stadium deal, the RPA weighed in—after internal discussions "more extensive . . . than on any other issue in memory" and despite arm-twisting by Deputy Mayor Dan Doctoroff. The RPA's argument ("there is no compelling need to place this in a part of the city that should be devoted to high-value, high-density office and residential development") helped transform the debate from a narrow argument by skeptical residents to a larger discussion of the city's priorities.

    JUAN GONZALEZ ET AL.: While the tabloid press waved pom-poms for the stadium deal, the Daily News columnist kept asking uncomfortable questions about the housing plans, traffic problems, and complex real estate deals encompassed by the Hudson Yards push. Anti-stadium advocates also credit Bob Herbert and the New York Times editorial writers who raised their voices in skepticism.

    THE POLS: Silver threw the big punch last week, but he was only the latest elected official to come out against the stadium deal. Neighborhood residents credit a long line of politicians—Congressman Jerry Nadler; state senators Tom Duane, Eric Schneiderman, and Liz Krueger; assemblymembers Adriano Espaillat, Deborah Glick, Dick Gottfried, and Scott Stringer; councilmembers Gale Brewer and Christine Quinn; and Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum. They lent staff members to the anti-stadium efforts, lobbied their leaders in Albany and on the council, hosted press conferences, and in some cases, went to court.

    THE LAWSUITS: Litigation by Cablevision, the Straphangers Campaign, the Transport Workers Union Local 100, and others has yet to actually convince a court to officially block the stadium plan. But the suits helped delay the closing of the Jets deal, and that gave the activists time to work on public opinion as well as lobby Silver and Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno. The legal action also brought to light some awkward truths about the stadium deal, like the terms of the Jets-MTA agreement that allowed the team to pull out if the public financing was nixed.

    THE GRASSROOTS: Community Board 4 chairman Walter Mankoff compares the stadium fight to a scene from The Barber of Seville, where a single, hushed word of scorn multiplies into a cacophony of voices. "We started as a whisper and ended as a storm also," he says.

    For years there had been opposition to a stadium on the West Side, dating back to Rudy Giuliani's efforts to install the Yankees there. But with the full force of NYC2012 and the mayor behind the Jets plan, some local activists believed a more organized resistance was needed this time around. This feeling gave birth, in February 2003, to the Hell's Kitchen/Hudson Yards Alliance, a group encompassing several local organizations. (Some neighborhood activists stayed out of the coalition because they felt the alliance was too willing to accept heavy development in the area.)

    The alliance knows it didn't defeat the Jets deal. "It was, I guess, Sheldon Silver and Joe Bruno," Anna Levin acknowledges. "But the stuff you heard coming out of their mouths were arguments we helped develop that sort of went up through the food chain and came out of their mouths, and in the end won the day."

    The alliance did that by meeting with other local organizations, collecting signatures, holding rallies, staging press conferences, and writing to officials—delivering 25,000 letters to Silver and Bruno a week before the key stadium vote. Its members mastered the complex, interrelated subjects that the stadium deal involved: zoning laws, stadium economics, municipal finance, the convention business, and the gigantic environmental-impact statement. Most importantly, Levin says, "We've learned how to take our own parochial interests and connect them up with the broader interests that other New Yorkers might have because we knew we weren't going to kill this if it was just a 'not in my backyard' argument."

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