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Civic Conversations: Far West Side of Manhattan - Question and Answer Session

Proposed Stadium at Hudson Yards

Citizens Union Foundation's
Civic Conversation on
West Side Development,
June 24, 2004:

Opening statements

The following are excerpts from the question and answer portion of a June 24 forum on the city's plan to develop the far West Side of Manhattan. The forum was sponsored by Citizens Union Foundation, the publisher of Gotham Gazette.

Question: What will the public review be?

Daniel Doctoroff, deputy mayor for economic development: We will not be able to issue the bonds if we don't get the rezoning we have proposed through City Council. If we don't rezone, we will not have the ability to build commercial office buildings or residential buildings -- to create the value. Therefore, this will be completely subject to review by the City Council, perhaps not through the traditional capital budget method but it will be done through in many ways a much more complete, much more exhaustive several month period of analysis.

Joyce Purnick, New York Times: What you're saying is that the City Council will review the zoning but not the funding?

Doctoroff: In order to do the financing, you've got to have the rezoning.

Purnick: It's a domino.

Doctoroff: I don't know if I'd describe it as a domino effect but the reality is that the thing that makes this all possible is the rezoning. The rezoning is subject to City Council review.

City Councilmember Christine Quinn: The zoning plan is about generating enough revenue to create the financing that's needed for the stadium. I can't even count the number of times that the council [has tried to discuss financing when discussing rezoning]. And every time that happens, the staff of the city planning commission and even our own staff tells us that the financial components of the plan are not what should be reviewed in the land use process.

I think we're treading on very dangerous ground by now merging financing and zoning. Given the desire to have a full review of this by the council, let's just do this as opposed to back dooring it.

Doctoroff: I think that's completely inaccurate and unfair. To say that this whole plan is being done for a stadium is ridiculous. The reality is that what we're talking about is generating the space that this city needs to grow. This is a city that faces chronic budget deficits. This is a city that lost 50,000 jobs to New Jersey during the 1990s in large part because we didn't have the space. This is a city that needs to generate jobs and it needs to generate revenue. And that is what the genesis of this plan was.

Do we believe yes we do that the New York Sports and Convention Center will accelerate development and help to fill the commercial and residential development zone? But to simply say that this is driven by the stadium is, I think, just completely unfair.

Now, with respect to this notion that you don't ever mix the zoning process and the legislative financing process, that's all semantic. We are giving the City Council a vote. We are giving them a vote on the zoning. The zoning makes the financing possible. It's not a backdoor thing. If we don't rezone we can't do it. We all acknowledge that.

Question: Can the Javits Center be enlarged without the stadium? And every stadium has large overruns. How will you deal with them?

Doctoroff: Let me answer your second question first. Certainly there can always be cost overruns. However, the Jets have agreed to pay for any cost overruns.

With respect to your first question, can the Javits Center get expanded without the New York Sports and Convention center? Certainly it can, and we believe that the expansion will take place. That doesn't answer the questions of would it be as good as a facility? Would it give us a competitive advantage in the convention business? If we expand to the north, we will still only be maybe the seventh largest convention center in North America. But most importantly we won't really be competitive. We won't have the largest convention center, we won't have the most sophisticated facility.

What we have to do is create a competitive advantage that enables us to compete for almost any major trade show or event that takes place in the United States. The New York Sports and Convention Center gives us these key competitive advantages. One is that it will give us one hall with 200,000 square feet. It will be the largest hall in New York by a factor of more than two. It will be ideal to host small and intermediate trade shows that get lost in Javits. In addition, it will be convertible into a plenary hall for Javits. There are many, many conventions that want to come but that need one place to seat tens of thousands of people at one time. We don't have that capacity in New York City.

Question: Is the stadium the cheapest way to get the exhibition space?

Doctoroff: In fact it (the stadium) probably is cheaper than Javits in many ways because the key piece of it is that you've got a private party that is willing to invest $800 million. We have to build a platform no matter what we develop just to create land.

Quinn: There are other questions and other issues that have yet to be fully answered in this process. There was a long discussion at the council hearing on this - that if you have the Jets stadium which then becomes part of the Javits center, which does the scheduling? How do you balance out what the Jets needs are versus the convention needs of that stadium? At the hearing, there was not a clear answer to that. These are, I think, some very important questions that need to be answered about how the facility will operate and whether one can really assume that the number of events and the type of events that are needed to pay for everything will actually happen.

Doctoroff: Let me just respond to that, which I think is a legitimate question. There has been progress. Most significantly, the Jets recently reached an agreement with the NFL where the NFL would give the Jets their schedule -- not the teams they're playing against but the active schedule when they'd be home and away -- years and years in advance. That would enable us to set aside specific dates in advance for conventions during the middle of the football season and the height of the convention season.

Ravitch: Do you have a commitment from the Jets for $800 million in cash or credit worthy backing for $800 million?

Doctoroff: What I'm saying is that the Jets are assuming responsibility for $800 million for the cost of the facility

Ravitch: Does that responsibility include the issuance of debt?

Doctoroff: They're responsible for raising the money. Yes, it's true that some of the money could come from the National Football League, some of the money could come from borrowings.

Ravitch: Whose borrowings?

Doctoroff: The Jets would be responsible, the entity that the Jets created.

Ravitch: Would there be a tax-exempt entity?

Doctoroff: I don't think the financing has yet been determined. But the Jets are responsible for it.

Question: The Jets contributed $800,000. How can you say no to that?

Quinn: If there had been a call for proposals for a project to generate jobs and revenue on the West Side of Manhattan and a requirement of it was a public-private financial partnership, then we might have had five, ten, twenty different things to look at and maybe the Jets proposal would have risen to the top. But we don't have that. We keep saying this is good and we need to do it because the Jets are putting in $800 million, but we don't know that there aren't other entities willing to put up that amount of money or more who could have done something significant as it relates to economic development and job generation for the West Side.

Doctoroff: I think that's a nice point, but we have a lot of history to demonstrate that that is probably not accurate. It's not like these rail yards are a big secret. They've been lying fallow for quite some time. To the best of my knowledge -- certainly in the last 15 years at least and I think probably ever -- nobody has ever expressed interest in those rail yards, other than I guess one party. That would be the New York Yankees.

Question: Why do the western rail yards need to be subject to the City Council's Urban Land Use Review Process ULURP while the stadium site does not?

Doctoroff: In recent years, generally speaking, projects on state land are not subject to ULURP. I do think it's funny that people don't seem to complain that the Javits Center expansion or, for example, Ground Zero are not subject to ULURP. They are subject to a process that most people have found to be very acceptable.

Since we started this over two years ago, there have been over 150 community meetings, meetings with groups like this, where we've reached out, City Council hearings as well. Community input has led to a large number of improvements to the overall Hudson Yards plan.

Quinn: The deputy mayor has been completely accessible to my office. He and his staff should be credited for meeting with us, for providing us with information at hearings, and for the information he provides us [that] we then go out and use it against the plan.

Doctoroff: Inaccurately.

Quinn: That's not true.

He has never stopped giving us information and that would not have been the case in every administration or with every deputy mayor. That said, I think that is different than having a conference where the legislative body gets to actually vote and other people from other parts of the city who are helped by this or hurt by this get to weigh in as well. What the deputy mayor has done is commendable and a great example of a government being open and accessible, but I don't think that is the same thing as what happens [when] a legislative body in its entirety gets to weigh in in a different type of public process.

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For more, read Opening statements from the June 24 forum on Far West side Development