Subway Woes: Follow the Money


Speaker Giff hits Mayor Mike for starving the agency, but will Brooklyn deal do it right?

Mayor Michael Bloomberg is stumped. “We have sadly under-funded the infrastructure improvements in the MTA for decades, and we should not walk away from it now. Where the money is going to come from is the big problem.”

Where indeed. What would be great is if the MTA had a property they wanted to sell, say one with a market value of $900 million. But wait! The MTA has such a site, the one at Hudson Yards, and if all goes according to plan, the agency will soon unload it to the New York Jets as the site of their new stadium. Touchdown, MTA!

Unfortunately, the Jets won’t be paying $900 million. They won’t even pay half price. Instead, they’ve agreed to hand over about $250 million to the agency. And that’s only because Cablevision raised a stink and forced the MTA to open up its bidding for the site. The Jets original offer was a mere $100 million, and if memory serves, Bloomberg the businessman-mayor was willing to take that deal and run.

Perhaps $900 million wouldn’t close the gap the MTA now faces between its needs and its resources. But the cash couldn’t hurt. So one of the mayor’s Democratic rivals pounced on the statement.

“It is the height of hypocrisy for the mayor to complain about the state of the MTA’s finances after he recklessly pushed the agency to sell the West Side rail yards for over $700 million less than it’s worth — money that could have been used to update the aging subway system and begin vital projects such as the Second Avenue line,” mayoral candidate and City Council Speaker Gifford Miller said in a statement Monday. “The mayor has made a bed that unfortunately New Yorkers now have to lie in.”

But the Hudson Yards isn’t the only MTA property on the block. So is the Atlantic (or Vanderbilt) Yards site in Brooklyn, where developer Bruce Ratner wants to stick a new arena for his Nets, along with housing and stores. That property is the subject of a newly released request for proposals from the MTA, so it’s impossible to say now whether Ratner will pay the MTA something closer to the Vanderbilt Yards fair market value than the Jets will on the West Side.

But Miller this weekend announced he backs the Brooklyn project, a priority of Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz, who recently endorsed the speaker for mayor. The Nets deal involves about $200 million of public money, compared to an estimated $300 million for the Jets deal.

Miller told the New York Times that the difference between the two deals is that, unlike the Jets’, Ratner’s proposal includes “historic commitment to affordable housing, an open R.F.P., a mass transit support and money going through the public budget process.”

On the specific issue of the price of the MTA property in Brooklyn, Miller’s campaign spokesman Reggie Johnson told the Voice, “It’s clear he thinks that the MTA’s going to get the best price for the Atlantic Yards property.”