Manhattan Stadium is One Step Closer to Reality

The Jets' long campaign for a new home in the Big Apple took a giant leap today with the announcement that an agreement had been reached between the team, the City of New York and New York State to construct a 75,000-seat stadium over the Hudson Rail Yards on Manhattan's far West Side -- and to expand the undersized Jacob Javits Convention Center, which adjoins the proposed site.<p>

Jets owner Woody Johnson joined Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Governor George Pataki to announce a $2.8 billion development project for the area -- $1.4 billion of which would be earmarked for the new stadium -- during a press conference at the Javits Convention Center.

"With the enthusiastic reception we received today, I can honestly say that the wait was well worth it," Johnson said. "The New York Jets are finally coming home."

But there are some obstacles, most notably zoning approvals and an environmental review. Also, with City Councilwoman Christine Quinn, State Assemblyman Sheldon Silver and State Senator Thomas Duane joining "activist" residents of the area in opposing the stadium project, court battles are on the horizon.

The plan calls for the stadium complex – dubbed the New York Sports and Convention Center -- to be built over the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's rail yards, between 11th and 12th avenues and from 30th to 33rd streets. Matt Higgins, the Jets vice president for strategic planning, told Jets Confidential last week that the club was close to an agreement with the MTA for the property site.

The Jets would finance $800 million for construction of the stadium, with the city and state chipping in $600 million to build the retractable roof and a platform over the rail yards. The Jets' lease at the Meadowlands expires in 2008 and supporters are hoping construction can begin in 2005.

A number of project backers, most notably Bloomberg, foresee a long-term far-West Side renaissance project, including the construction of high-rise residential buildings and office complexes.

Stadium boosters want to breathe life into what they essentially view as a frontier ghost town. They point to minimal pedestrian traffic, unattractive industrial edifices and parking lots in describing the far West Side as the most underdeveloped area of Manhattan.

The stadium is envisioned for multi-purpose use as a venue for conventions, concerts and other events and will also serve as an enticement in the city's ongoing push to host the 2012 Summer Olympic Games. The complex would also house several restaurants, retail stores, a museum and a small theater.

The New York Sports and Convention Center's all-weather capability will also be used as bait to lure other major sporting events, including the Super Bowl, the NCAA Final Four basketball tournament and an annual major college bowl game.

The Jets' public relations drive shifted into high gear this month. A March 4 press conference, held on the steps of City Hall, featured such supporters as New York State Assemblymen Keith L. Wright and Darryl C. Towns, City Councilwoman Margarita Lopez and former Gang Green running back Freeman McNeil. On March 8, dozens of Manhattan tavern owners gathered at a West Side bar where Jets President Jay Cross offered a presentation of the stadium project.

The proposal got a big boost on March 15, when David I. Weprin, chairman of the City Council's finance committee, reported that his analysis of economic impact data revealed the project would generate $75 million per year in new tax revenue. "A great investment for the future of New York City," Weprin said.

According to Weprin, the project would attract 33 annual conventions and trade shows to the Javits Convention Center, generating $32 million of supplementary revenue. In addition, 18,000 temporary construction jobs and 6,700 permanent jobs would be created. Top union officials from the construction and hotel and restaurant industries announced their support for the new stadium at a March 18 press conference.

"The Weprin report confirmed what we knew all along," Higgins said.

Earlier this month, the Jets released results of a survey of 600 season ticket holders regarding the mode of transportation they would take to games at the West Side site. Higgins noted that the survey showed only 30 percent of attendees would use their vehicles to get to games – 7,378 auto trips – compared to the approximately 30,000 vehicles that currently make the trip to the Meadowlands. A plan is currently being studied to extend the No. 7 subway line to the proposed stadium site.

"But even without the extension of the No. 7 subway, fans said they would use public transportation," Higgins told Jets Confidential.

With no plans on the board for construction of a stadium-dedicated parking lot, the end might be near for tailgate parties. At a March 16 breakfast hosted by Crain's New York, Cross downplayed the potential demise of the venerable pre-game ritual.

"People tailgate because there's not a lot else to do in the areas where tailgating is the most popular," Cross said. "Certainly, if you go to Giants Stadium, you're in no rush to get into that building and go to the concessions and washrooms. In urban stadiums throughout the league, basically, there's no tailgating."

While acknowledging that tailgating is an important part of fan culture, Higgins added, "We believe the fans will be willing to make the trade-off of tailgating for a state-of-the-art stadium in Manhattan."

Neighborhood activists opposing the stadium, however, fear that Gang Green fans would set up tailgating areas on side streets, leaving behind piles of trash. Hellskitchen.com reported that the New Jersey Sports & Exposition Authority spends $30,000 to clean refuse from the Meadowlands' parking lot after each Jets' home game.

A pro-stadium website (westsidestadium.org), run by West Side resident Tom McMorrow, claims that traffic flow near the Lincoln Tunnel on game days won't be as big a problem as some predict. The website notes that because New York-based Jets season ticket holders outnumber their New Jersey cohorts by 2-to-1, traffic through the tunnel will not be as heavy as it presently is for Jets games at the Meadowlands.

"Since there is no meaningful mass transit to the Meadowlands, almost all of these [New York-based] fans drive," the website noted.

On Thursday morning, just hours from the announcement of the agreement, McMorrow debated Councilwoman Quinn on WNYW's "Good Day New York" show.

Westsidestadium.org greets the visitor with a fantasy headline, dated Jan. 1, 2009, that reads: "Notre Dame Beats UCLA 28-24; First Annual Big Apple Bowl; City Reaps Bonanza."

Wishful words that are one step closer to reality.


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