Friday, June 03, 2005

Hurdle Cleared, West Side Stadium Backers Turn to Albany

Hurdle Cleared, West Side Stadium Backers Turn to Albany

New York Times
Published: June 3, 2005

James Estrin/The New York TimesJohn Maggi, left, was one demonstrator supporting a new West Side stadium yesterday. Dahlia Duperroir and most others opposed the idea.

A day before the vote that could determine the fate of the proposed West Side stadium, supporters of the project won an important court ruling yesterday that may help persuade Albany lawmakers to approve it. But the maneuvering on both sides of the issue was so feverish that no one could say how the $2.2 billion project would fare, or even whether today's vote would be definitive.

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Charles V. Bagli on the West Side Stadium
Text: The Judge's Opinion

John Marshall Mantel for The New York Times
L. Jay Cross, the team president of the Jets, spoke to the news media on Thursday at City Hall after a court dismissed a challenge to the railyard's sale.

on Hogan Charles/The New York Times
Without the stadium, which will house the Jets, the city's chances of winning the Olympic bid on July 6 would be slim.

Ruby Washington/The New York Times

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg assured Olympic officials that West Side Stadium construction would go forward.

The ruling was issued in State Supreme Court by Justice Herman J. Cahn, who dismissed a challenge to the pending sale of the development rights over the West Side railyards to the Jets.

With only a few hours left before Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg's self-imposed deadline on the vote, the mayor, Gov. George E. Pataki and the city's Olympic bid committee spent the day trying to turn the courtroom victory into momentum to get the project moving toward final approval.

"It's time to go ahead and vote yes," Mr. Bloomberg said.

But the two skeptics in Albany who control the stadium's fate - Sheldon Silver, the Assembly speaker, and Joseph L. Bruno, the Senate majority leader - showed no sign of relenting, despite mounting pressure from the mayor and the governor. Mr. Silver renewed his pledge to support a stadium - but not necessarily on the West Side - if New York wins its bid for the 2012 Summer Olympics. Mr. Bruno issued a similar-sounding letter to the International Olympic Committee.

Both men questioned whether an immediate vote by the Public Authorities Control Board was necessary, despite the mayor's insistence that the project be approved immediately if the city is to have any chance of winning its bid for the 2012 Games when the committee makes its decision in a little more than four weeks.

Doing otherwise, the mayor said, jeopardizes the city's chances to land the 2012 Olympics and "would fail the country."

If either legislator was looking for a reason to vote against the project in the wake of yesterday's court decision, they got one from State Comptroller Alan G. Hevesi, who told members of the control board that it was premature to make a decision on the stadium. It is still unclear how the state and city will provide a $600 million subsidy for the stadium, Mr. Hevesi said in a letter to Mr. Pataki, Mr. Bruno and Mr. Silver.

Although there were intense back-room discussions going on among all the parties, there were signs in Albany yesterday afternoon that the stadium issue may not be resolved today at the little-known board, which is controlled by Mr. Pataki, Mr. Bruno and Mr. Silver. Mr. Pataki was insisting on a vote, but Mr. Silver and Mr. Bruno have the power to delay it again, having already done so twice. If the meeting takes place and the stadium is voted down, the governor has the power to put it back on the agenda in a week if negotiations go well over the next few days.

The jockeying does not bode well for Monday, when the I.O.C. plans to release its evaluation of the bids for the 2012 Games from New York, Paris, London, Madrid and Moscow. New York had hoped a triumphant announcement of the stadium's final approval would counter any concerns about the project's progress that might emerge in the evaluation. The most prominent lawsuit dismissed yesterday by Justice Cahn was filed by Cablevision, which owns Madison Square Garden and considers the stadium a potential business threat. The company had bid more money for the stadium site, now a railyard owned by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, and contended that the authority violated its responsibility by agreeing to sell the land to the Jets for a lower price.

Justice Cahn disagreed, saying the authority acted reasonably in basing the sale on factors other than price, including the timetable of construction and the long-term value of development rights for the land, which the M.T.A. said could be transferred to nearby parcels.

"If the Jets' proposal was deemed by the M.T.A. board to be more beneficial for the M.T.A. than the mixed-use proposal made by M.S.G., the board was justified in accepting it," the judge wrote.

Jay Kriegel, executive director of the city's bid committee, NYC2012, embraced the ruling, saying the court had rejected the "bogus arguments" intended to stop the project. "There is now no longer any reason or excuse for the P.A.C.B. to delay approval of the stadium tomorrow," he said.

Despite the decision, the stadium's legal problems are not over. Cablevision and other stadium opponents in the case vowed to appeal. And Justice Cahn dealt with only one of four challenges to the project. Other opponents have challenged it on environmental and financial grounds.

In a statement released yesterday, Madison Square Garden said that it was confident that the court's ruling would be overturned. "Far more important," the statement said, "is the issue of whether or not taxpayers should be forced to subsidize a $2.2 billion football stadium on the West Side of Manhattan that New Yorkers do not want and cannot afford."

The legal issues may ultimately pale before the geopolitics of the situation. Mr. Silver has raised a number of issues about the stadium and the city's plans to build a new office district on the West Side. He has said the stadium could undermine efforts to revitalize his downtown district, which still suffers from a relatively high vacancy rate.

The Pataki administration and the Bloomberg administration have been meeting with members of Mr. Silver's staff to fashion a program of tax breaks and cash incentives to lure companies downtown. A senior member of the Pataki administration said the incentives would be steeper than those offered by the Bloomberg administration on the West Side.

Meanwhile, they are also negotiating with Mr. Bruno for state funds for upstate projects that would be comparable to the state's $300 million subsidy for the stadium.

Reporting for this article was contributed by Al Baker and Michael Cooper, in Albany, and Nicholas Confessore and Jim Rutenberg, at City Hall.

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