Wednesday, March 15, 2006

New MSG to siphon off city tax dollars?

Date: Wed, 15 Mar 2006 05:56:37 -0500
From: "Kitchen" Add to Address Book Add Mobile Alert
Subject: MSG to siphon off city taxes - and Two Stadiums. No Waiting

March 14, 2006

New MSG to siphon off city tax dollars?

Talk of building a new Madison Square Garden
inside the landmarked Farley Post Office building
is making headlines again, with the New York
Observer reporting that the real goal is for the
developers behind the deal - and for Cablevision,
owners of the Garden and the New York Knicks and
Rangers - is to clear the way for development of
the current MSG site, which was recently rezoned
to hold as much as 5 million square feet of office

That rezoning, charges Brian Hatch of, is key to why the city is
backing the arena-in-the-post-office plan. As
part of the Hudson Yards redevelopment that was
originally to accompany the now-dead New York
Jets stadium plan, the MSG parcel was not only
upzoned to allow for bigger buildings, but also
incorporated into the official Hudson Yards
district. This means that any property taxes
(really payments in lieu of taxes, but whatever)
would not go to the city treasury, but rather to
pay off the cost of building a subway line
extension through the new district - though as
Hatch notes, it's "preposterous that the land
above Penn Station - the busiest transit hub in
the country - is undevelopable without a subway
stop several blocks away."

The upshot is that instead of getting
property-tax money to pay for all the services
needed by another 5 million square feet of office
workers, the city would divert the money to pay
for a subway line to encourage development of
more office space that would also pay property
taxes into the subway fund so as to encourage...
phew. This is already sounding as complicated as
deputy mayor Dan Doctoroff's last West Side
financing scheme. And it has the same drawback,
in that all this new office space not only won't
help fill the city treasury, it could end up just
cannibalizing development from elsewhere in
Manhattan. It makes you wonder what Sheldon Silver
thinks of all this.

The Farley building, meanwhile, also sits within
the Hudson Yards district, so that money would be
redirected as well - provided, of course, that
Cablevision doesn't demand to take its
property-tax exemption with it across the street
and pay nothing at all. (Your head hurt yet?
Because mine sure does.)

None of this is a done deal yet, mind you, and
the preservationists who were hoping the Farley
could become a grand public space to replace the
long-lost Penn Station - itself demolished to
make way for the current MSG and its attendant
office towers - are expected to oppose dropping a
private sports arena into what was supposed to be
the central atrium. As Municipal Art Society
president Kent Barwick, himself a supporter of
the MSG plan, told the Observer: "We're either
getting ready for a very big party or a very big

Two Stadiums. No Waiting.
Yanks and Mets plans leave little room for public debate
by Neil deMause
March 14th, 2006 11:27 AM
Village Voice

Compared with the long-running sagas of the West
Side Jets stadium (born January 1999, died June
2005) and the Brooklyn Nets arena plan (unveiled
December 2003, still not out of the starting
blocks), Mayor Bloomberg's proposal to build new
homes for the Mets and Yankees has whizzed by in
a virtual blur. First announced during a
whirlwind week last June as part of Bloomberg's
last-ditch attempts to revive the city's flagging
Olympic bid, the $1.8 billion twin-stadium plan
is now scheduled to come up for a winner-take-all
City Council vote on April 5.

Yet key details of the plans remain unresolved,
leaving some neighborhood activists and
good-government advocates wondering if the teams'
rush to break ground is trampling on the need for
open public debate. "The proposal to build a new
Yankee Stadium is moving at warp speed, and
nobody can get on this train," says Bettina
Damiani of the subsidy-watch group Good Jobs New
York. "The New York Stock Exchange subsidy deal
didn't move this quickly; even some 9-11�related
projects didn't move this quickly. It's
disconcerting, to say the least, how quickly this
project is moving, and at the same time
completely excluding the input of local community members."

The Yankees plan, which would demolish the House
That Ruth Built and build a new stadium across
161st Street to the north, leaped out to a quick
start last summer. Just eight days after
Bloomberg's stadium press conference, and before
most Bronx residents had even learned the details
of the plan, the state legislature moved to
"alienate" Macombs Dam and Mullaly Parks, 21
acres of which would be obliterated to make way
for the ballpark. Before this could happen, the
city council had to sign off on a Home Rule
message endorsing the legislature's land grab.
This message, however, arrived in the council
"preconsidered"­the city's version of the state
legislature's infamous "messages of necessity"
that allow lawmakers to dispense with debate.

As a result, there were no public hearings, and
according to council minutes obtained by Good
Jobs New York, councilmembers never even
discussed the issue. Meanwhile, the council's
finance division provided members with a "Fiscal
Impact Statement" indicating "no impact on [city]
expenditures resulting from the enactment of this
legislation"­though by the city's own admission,
it will be on the hook for more than $135 million
in land and infrastructure costs. (Both a Good
Jobs study and an analysis by the Voice put total
public subsidies, including tax and rent breaks,
at more than $400 million­with about half of that
coming from the city.)

The council unanimously approved decommissioning
the parks. (Brooklyn arena opponent Tish James
abstained.) Three days later, the state
legislature passed its alienation bill, and the Yankees
had their land.

"No alienation has moved as fast as the
Yankees'," says Christian DiPalermo, executive
director of New Yorkers for Parks. Coming on the
heels of a similarly fast-tracked alienation to
place a water filtration plant in Van Cortlandt
Park, DiPalermo worries, taking parkland for
private uses might become a pattern, especially
as new restrictions on eminent domain make it
more difficult to take private property for public

With this crucial state legislative hurdle
cleared, the project dove straight into the
city's Uniform Land Use Review Procedure, put in
place in the 1970s in response to the bad old
days of Robert Moses's bulldozing of
neighborhoods for "urban renewal." After a series
of contentious public hearings­at one,
stadium-backing Bronx borough president Adolfo
Carri�n was met with angry chants of "You work
for us!"­Bronx Community Board 4 voted 16 to 8 in
November to reject the Yankees plan. Under ULURP,
though, community board votes are only advisory,
and the City Planning Commission­which does have
veto power­subsequently unanimously endorsed the

The city's draft environmental-impact statement,
meanwhile­a 700-plus-page tome that, several
Bronx residents have complained, is unreadable to
the borough's many Spanish speakers­attracted a
flood of citizen comments, which were mostly
dismissed with a perfunctory wave of
bureaucratese. (Sample text: "The commenter's
assertion that the proposed project is 'laden
with hidden public subsidies' is outside the
scope of [this] analysis. . . . Neither the City
nor the State will have any obligation to pay for
construction of the new stadium. Thus, there are
no hidden public subsidies.")

To some, this timeline points up the trouble with
ULURP, which sets a strict seven-month window for
public review before a council vote. "That may
not be long enough to have a public debate about
a major facility that's going to transform an
entire area of the city," says Hunter College
urban-affairs professor Tom Angotti.

It certainly hasn't been long enough to solidify
the stadium plan itself, which remains in a state
of flux. As just one example, the city Industrial
Development Agency recently revealed that the
cost of new parking garages has skyrocketed from
$235 million to $320 million in the past four
months. While $70 million of that will come out
of the pockets of state taxpayers, the remainder
is expected to be paid by as-yet-unidentified
private developers. If no developer voluntarily
comes forward­and the higher the price, the more
it looks like a money-loser­the city could be
left having to front this money itself.

Moreover, because Macombs Dam Park received funds
under the federal Land and Water Conservation
Program in the 1980s, the National Park Service
still must certify that lost parkland is replaced
by equivalent green space. In actuality, says
Lukas Herbert, a Westchester city planner who
lives near Yankee Stadium and serves on Community
Board 4, "the replacement parkland that they're
building is almost a mile away, and it's going to
be difficult for senior citizens and kids to get
there. Right now you walk out your front door,
and the park is right there." Save Our Parks is
considering a lawsuit over both the EIS failings
and the federal park-replacement regs, but, says
Herbert, "a lot of us are concerned that if the
City Council approves it, they're going to go in
and start tearing down trees."

The Mets project, meanwhile, virtually
disappeared from the radar after Bloomberg's
initial announcement last summer of a new
44,000-seat facility­about 25 percent smaller
capacity than Shea Stadium, though roughly the
same height­to be built in what's now the center
field parking lot. Unlike the Yankees' series of
ULURP hearings, the Mets plan has only a single
public hearing to its credit so far: an Empire
State Development Authority shindig that was held
at four on a Monday afternoon, and drew all of six speakers.

"It was a farce," says Flushing community
activist David Oats, who has long lobbied for an
Olympic stadium in Queens. "Here's a huge,
multimillion-dollar project that will affect New
York City for generations, and they hold one
hearing at four o'clock in the afternoon, and
they don't even send out a press release?"

The city insists that the Mets plan doesn't need
a fresh public review process because it already
conducted an impact study back in 2001, when the
project was set to sport a retractable roof and a
different financing scheme. It's hard to say,
though, since the Mets have still not released
their designs for a new stadium, and official
state documents indicate design schematics as
"intentionally deleted."

The speed of the process has also left little
time for the sort of intensive scrutiny that the
Jets and Nets plans were subjected to, either by
good-government groups or the press. The city
Independent Budget Office hasn't weighed in on
the fiscal impact of the baseball projects (the
IBO's Doug Turetsky says "elected officials have
not been coming asking about this"), and no
public polls have been conducted, aside from one
last July that found just 27 percent of New
Yorkers would endorse a new Queens stadium if it
cost $180 million in public funds. (The actual
Mets subsidy, including tax breaks, would be closer
to $400 million.)

The council itself mostly seems to be hoping the
whole thing goes away without any tiresome public
debate, especially after the tightly controlled
Bronx Democratic machine lined up early behind
the Yankees. Unlike with the Jets and Nets
proposals, a local Bronx councilmember, Helen
Foster, co-sponsored the Home Rule message OK'ing
the parks grab. Foster recently declared she's
not "ready to concede" to building a stadium in
the park, while Maria del Carmen Arroyo, whose
district actually includes the stadium site, is
officially undecided; last Thursday's scheduled
council hearing was abruptly postponed at the
request of Bronx members, with Arroyo citing
unspecified "concerns" that City Hall had yet to
address. (Neither Foster nor Arroyo returned
calls for this article.)

Jeremy Soffin of the Regional Plan Association, a
veteran of the West Side wars, blames "stadium
fatigue" after eight years and counting of sports
facility squabbles, dating back to Rudy
Giuliani's ill-fated gambit to move the Yankees
to the West Side rail yards. Others insist that
it's less about the timing of these stadium
plans, and more about the color of their borough.
"In no other community would they accept a
stadium across the street from where people live,
and accept parking garages to replace parkland,"
says Anita Antonetty, a Save Our Parks member and
recording secretary for Bronx Community Board 4.
"The process is just too fast, and the
alternatives are not being explored at all."

The still larger concern, adds David Gratt of
Friends of Yankee Stadium, is what sort of
precedent this sets for future city projects.
"The Bronx Terminal Market went through this way;
the stadiums are going through this way," says
Gratt, a former Department of City Planning
staffer. "Developers now expect to finalize their
deals by sitting down with the mayor's office,
the borough president, and the council. And the
process, which was originally designed to solicit
public input, is being used to disregard the public."

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