Saturday, January 22, 2005

Subject: Will He Block That Stadium? Speaker Silver Bides His Time
Date: 1/22/2005 2:41:49 AM Eastern Standard Time
Sent from the Internet (Details)

January 22, 2005
Will He Block That Stadium?
Speaker Silver Bides His Time
NY Times

"What does Shelly want?"

It's the question that Deputy Mayor Daniel L. Doctoroff and the Bloomberg administration keep asking at City Hall, in Lower Manhattan and in Albany.

"Shelly" is Sheldon Silver, the speaker of the State Assembly, who stands astride the road as the administration tries to complete its relentless drive to build a $1.4 billion stadium for the Jets, and possibly the 2012 Olympics, on the West Side of Manhattan. Voters may not have a say in whether the stadium gets built - using $600 million in tax money - but Mr. Silver will, and his ambivalence is driving other politicians slightly batty.

The speaker, however, has a reputation as a horse-trader, and so Mr. Doctoroff and other city officials have been trying to learn what Mr. Silver wants for his downtown Manhattan district in return for his approval when the stadium comes before the little-known Public Authorities Control Board, where the speaker holds veto power. Is it money for affordable housing, something for Chinatown, new funds for the Hudson River Park in TriBeCa?

Mr. Silver is not saying, and so far, his relationship with stadium
proponents has been chilly. A community leader and two executives involved in rebuilding Lower Manhattan say that the administration is suddenly holding hostage various downtown projects, such as a school for the area's growing population, that had already been agreed on. Gov. George E. Pataki's preliminary budget has not improved the negotiating climate, as it slashes funds for the Second Avenue subway, a project championed by Mr. Silver.

And so, although Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg said Wednesday that he hoped the stadium project would be approved at the public authorities board's meeting on Feb. 16, few in the Assembly, the Senate or the governor's office say it will even be on the agenda.

"What's the hurry?" Mr. Silver asked in an interview this week. "The driving force in this is the Olympics. I don't understand the rush to build a stadium for the 2012 Olympics in 2005."

Mr. Silver said he had not made up his mind about the stadium, and had questions about its impact on traffic congestion and the community. He said it was also part of a broader project to redevelop the West Side with office towers, which may compete with efforts he prefers to rebuild the business district in Lower Manhattan at a time when there is a high vacancy rate and no tenants in sight for two buildings at the trade center site.

Mr. Silver, who has worked to keep downtown's commercial sector vital, has also been philosophically at odds with the Bloomberg administration, which has promoted residential development in the area.

He said it would be "unfortunate" if the mayor were holding up projects he supported in an effort to prod him into voting for the stadium.

"If it's true," he said, "it would appear the mayor is more interested in trading, rather than governing; in a physical legacy, instead of governing."

He said it appeared that plans for an elementary school in a proposed residential project on Beekman Street were now "stalled." And for three years, he said, he has urged the city to reopen a section of Park Row in front of City Hall. Many people in nearby Chinatown think the street closing has contributed to a severe drop in tourism since 9/11. But, Mr. Silver said, City Hall has not responded.

Jennifer Falk, a spokeswoman for Mr. Doctoroff, said the administration would not comment on the specifics of the negotiations.

Few people on either side of the stadium issue are willing to be quoted by name, because the talks are going on behind closed doors.

Mr. Silver "really loathes what Bloomberg is trying to do here," said an executive who knows Mr. Silver and is active in Lower Manhattan.

"He's a guy who believes in long-term relationships," the executive said. "They're trying to hold up everything."

But stadium advocates say that this is all part of the push and pull of negotiations. "So long as Shelly gets what he wants downtown," said one person involved in promoting the stadium, "we'll get a stadium."

That remains to be seen.

"Shelly's genuinely trying to do this on the merits," said Assemblyman Richard L. Brodsky, a Westchester Democrat. "The mayor seriously underestimates him if he thinks he can bully him or hold projects hostage."

The Bloomberg administration is on something of a roll. Last month, the State Legislature approved the expansion of the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center on the Far West Side. On Wednesday, the City Council approved a comprehensive $3 billion rezoning of the 42-block neighborhood. James Whelan, executive director of the Hudson Yards Coalition, left the council meeting saying, "Two down, one to go."

The one to go is the stadium, which the mayor said is critical to the city's future and its bid for the 2012 Olympics.

The Jets are in tense negotiations with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority over the cost of development rights for building over the West Side rail yards. The authority, which faces fare increases, service cuts and multibillion-dollar shortfalls in its operating budget, wants "full value" for the rights, a number that may be far higher than the Jets are willing to pay.

The team and the Bloomberg administration must also contend with two lawsuits challenging the stadium project. Opponents hope the lawsuits will delay the project from starting until at least July 6, when they contend the International Olympic Committee is likely to pick Paris, not New York, for the 2012 Olympics. The stadium, they say, would then fall by the wayside.

In the meantime, the Empire State Development Corporation, the state's economic development arm, is expected to approve the stadium at its meeting on Thursday, reflecting the governor's support for the project. But before the Jets can begin construction, the project must also be approved by the Public Authorities Control Board, whose three members are appointed by Mr. Pataki, Mr. Silver and Joseph L. Bruno, the Senate majority leader. The board's decisions must be unanimous, and each member has the right to delay consideration for 30 days.

Trying to figure out what Mr. Silver will do has become a guessing game for both stadium opponents and supporters.

Woody Johnson, the owner of the Jets, and Jay Cross, the Jets' president, met with Mr. Silver two weeks ago to press their case. They have lined up support from 60 elected officials in New York City, including about 30 Assembly members, in an effort to surround the speaker.

"We appreciate that the speaker has kept an open mind about this project," said Matt Higgins, a Jets vice president, "while we work hard to build support in the Legislature."

Mayor Bloomberg, who also discussed the stadium with Mr. Silver in Albany recently, wants the public authorities board to approve the stadium on Feb. 16, just before a group from the Olympic Committee arrives in New York to evaluate the city's bid. But Mr. Silver has steadfastly refused to commit.

Mr. Bruno is also straddling the fence. State officials and the Jets think he will go along if the governor provides $300 million for upstate projects to match the state's support for the stadium in New York City. But that may take until this summer, when, and if, the State Legislature manages to approve a budget.

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