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The Nation

An Olympian Development Project

New York officials, as part of the city's pitch to land the 2012 Games, announce a $4.6-billion proposal to rebuild a swath of Manhattan.

March 26, 2004|Josh Getlin | Times Staff Writer

New York officials unveiled the city's biggest development project in decades Thursday, a $4.6-billion proposal linked to America's bid for the 2012 Olympics that calls for a football stadium in Manhattan, new subway construction, an expanded downtown convention center and 30 million square feet of new offices and housing.

The sprawling Hudson Yards project, covering an area 22 times the size of ground zero, would generate thousands of jobs, give a new home to the New York Jets and transform one of the city's most desolate, underdeveloped areas into a commercial district rivaling Park Avenue, city and state officials said.

The project is critical to the city's bid to host the Olympics in eight years, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg said. New York is America's designated candidate for holding the games but does not have an Olympic-quality stadium that could house track and field events or opening and closing ceremonies.

International Olympics officials are expected to winnow the list of nine potential host cities in May, and a final decision will be made in July 2005. City leaders believe stadium construction must be underway by then for New York's bid to be competitive. And there must be similar progress on related projects, such as the $1.8-billion one-mile subway extension to the stadium, they said.

"We have taken a historic step forward today for the city, because this new project is all about protecting our long-term economic future," Bloomberg said Thursday, joining city and state officials to formally announce the plan at the Jacob Javits Convention Center. "If you don't have a smile on your face today, you're never going to have one."

Not everyone did. A growing number of critics have attacked the ambitious proposal as a fiscal and environmental disaster, promising to block it with litigation. They say it could bleed taxpayers and potentially uproot thousands of residents.

The development, on Manhattan's west side, would require $1.1 billion in public funds, but there would also be private financing, including $800 million from the Jets football team toward building the stadium -- the largest amount committed by a professional team for such a purpose, Bloomberg said.

The Jets, who were based in New York until 1984, play their home games at the Meadowlands sports complex in New Jersey. Owner Robert Wood Johnson, who bought the team in 2000 for $635 million, said the Jets were "ready to come here where we belong, right here in Manhattan.... And we won't leave again."

Although an impressive array of city, state, labor and business leaders lined up in favor of the plan Thursday, New York has a long history of ambitious development plans falling apart.

The project faces tough scrutiny in the Legislature, which must approve several provisions of the deal. City Council members, many of whom oppose the plan, have promised to fight rezoning the area.

Given these obstacles, some observers suggest that the Hudson Yards project is an anachronism -- a throwback to the days when New York officials routinely approved massive projects with little regard for public opinion, sometimes wiping out entire neighborhoods.

"It's gotten harder to get anything built in New York in the last 50 years because there are a lot more obstacles now, and the day of big public ventures might be numbered," said former Mayor Edward I. Koch, who is reserving judgment on the project. "People think they can stop almost anything with lawsuits, and that's a shame, because this city still needs development."

Opponents also have questioned the wisdom of building a 75,000-seat football stadium in traffic-congested Manhattan.

The proposed project area -- running north from 30th Street to 42nd Street, between 10th Avenue and the Hudson River -- has been called New York's "last frontier" for big development. A short walk from the Empire State Building, the area is filled with rail yards, auto shops, vacant lots and small businesses.

Although the Javits Center anchors the area, it is largely cut off from the rest the city. The center's chairman, Robert E. Boyle, said, "This is the only place in the city where you could stand alone for an hour on a cold night and never see a taxi go by."

City officials have talked about developing the area for years, but plans picked up steam in recent months. Some critics believe New York is trying to ram the Hudson Yards plan through by linking it to the popular effort to win the Olympic Games for the city.

"We're being told that we can't have the Olympics without the stadium," said City Councilwoman Christine Quinn, who represents the area. "But that distracts attention from the bigger issue: Does New York need to spend millions on a stadium at a time when the city budget can't pay for decent schools and affordable housing?"

Deputy Mayor Dan Doctoroff, who developed the city's Olympic bid, concedes that New York City's plans are being driven by the Olympic clock.

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