The Hucksters

The people who tried to sell you the world's most expensive stadium

Whose big idea was this anyway? Who believed you could have a National Football League stadium on Manhattan's West Side without a tailgate-party-filled parking lot? Who were the culprits who insisted—all logic and experience to the contrary—that most fans would take public transit?

For that matter, what genius decided that the best use for prime riverfront property was a stadium where only seagulls can enjoy the view? And who cooked up the financing plan for this new sports mecca on the Hudson where you float the bonds first and pray that the revenue arrives later?

Did these folks never hear about the pie-in-the-sky schemes that sparked the city's worst fiscal crisis back in 1975? Did they pick up none of the mutterings of the city's real estate moguls about this waste of a great, buildable site? Had they never visited Giants Stadium on a Sunday afternoon? Never fought their way up the West Side on a busy weekend, even after West Street was expensively widened?

Mayor Bloomberg
photo: © 2005 The City of New York
Mayor Bloomberg

Details

Stadium Fiasco:

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    Who are these people?

    The answer is that the folks who tried to sell you a deeply subsidized $2.4 billion football stadium cum convention center on Eleventh Avenue are, despite the cheerleading rhetoric, more schemers than dreamers, more grifters than civic patriots. Within hours after the plan to award $300 million in state subsidies to the project fell apart last week in Albany, the stadium's most stalwart proponents began a reverse field run, tossing aside long-cherished arguments and launching one of the great flip-flops in modern city history:

    Maybe the Jets could build their stadium on the site with private money after all (something previously described as impossible). Maybe New York's Olympic committee could amend its proposal (after insisting that such changes were never allowed). Maybe Queens would make a fine locale for an Olympic stadium (after steadily dissing the borough and those who said it was a viable option for more than a year). Maybe that new stadium, built in tandem with the Mets, can be constructed for less than $300 million in public subsidies, compared with $600 million for the West Side version (after claiming there would be no cost savings if it were built in Flushing).

    All of those notions had been ridiculed by Team Bloomberg right up until the afternoon of June 6, when Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (with a much unheralded assist from Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno) said he had "a moral obligation" not to support huge state taxpayer contributions to help build it while Lower Manhattan still goes wanting. Within moments, the West Side stadium was dead as Kelsey's nuts.

    And it was probably dead a long time before that, although only a handful of insiders knew it for certain. Former U.S. senator turned millionaire lobbyist Alfonse D'Amato, who was hired to represent Jets foe Cablevision, confided to Republican pals weeks ago that the stadium would never be built, sources say. Since Bruno's vote alone was enough to snuff the project, and since Bruno owes his career to D'Amato, the Fonz presumably knew what he was talking about, just as lobbyist and Silver friend Pat Lynch did when she gave similar assurances months ago.

    At City Hall, it took a week for Team Bloomberg to make up its mind whether to hold a wake for the now moribund West Side project or take a shovel-in-the-ground photo for yet another new stadium concept. Mayor Bloomberg initially offered a mournful elegy ("we let down America"), but then quickly asked people to just stop talking about it ("My attitude is—that's history," he told his Friday radio show audience). The mayor, his backers know, has been relieved of the biggest single negative in his campaign for re-election. "It's a gift from the gods," said one longtime Bloomberg loyalist. "They have lifted the boulder off his shoulders."

    But while the failure of the mayor's biggest plan may be the strongest boost for his campaign, it's still worth analyzing the cabal that tried to foist this scheme upon us. Here are some key players:


    DANIEL DOCTOROFF's official title, the one Bloomberg bestowed on the 46-year-old multimillionaire investor when he was sworn into office in January 2002, was deputy mayor for economic development and rebuilding. The "rebuilding" tag was a nod to the immense task facing the administration in the wreckage of Lower Manhattan. But Doctoroff already had his eyes focused elsewhere. He had been a brash, young investment adviser, running a huge capital fund for Texas billionaire Robert Bass, when he formed NYC2012, the Olympics organization. In 1999, Mayor Giuliani agreed to back Doctoroff's plan to have the city make an Olympics bid, with a West Side stadium as its linchpin and the New Jersey-based Jets as the stadium's prospective new tenant.

    Even back then, areas of Queens such as Willets Point, near Shea Stadium, and the Sunnyside rail yards were suggested as alternatives. But Doctoroff dismissed them out of hand. His theory was that the Jets stadium would spark massive new commercial and residential construction on the underutilized far West Side. Records show he put his money where his mouth was. Among the Bass investments Doctoroff personally participated in was the 1999 purchase—just three months after Giuliani embraced the Olympics bid and the new stadium—of a 16-story, two-block-wide office building at the corner of West 33rd Street and Tenth Avenue.

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