As published in Newsday, April 6, 2004


Best site is Willets Point, not the West Side

Corey Bearak, an attorney, writes a weekly column for TimesLedger Newspapers in Queens. He is on the board of The Flushing Meadows Corona Park Conservancy, a nonprofit group.

All the hoopla by the governor, the mayor and his deputy, and the Jets owner over the proposed Olympic-Jets Stadium on Manhattan's far West Side might mislead anyone to think the deal done.

Everybody from the Central Labor Council's president to the City Council Finance Committee chairman seems to be on the same team. But this is just the opening kickoff. Let's call a time-out and reconsider the play.

Although George Pataki, Michael Bloomberg, Daniel Doctoroff, Woody Johnson, Brian McLaughlin and David Weprin may sincerely believe in this $2.8-billion grand scheme, severe problems with its financing and siting invite serious scrutiny, offering hope to those of us stung by Mayor Bloomberg's outright dismissal of the best place for the Jets to play: Willets Point in Queens.

If the mayor and the governor have indeed squirreled away hundreds of millions of dollars for subsidizing a new Jets stadium in Manhattan, scrutiny of upcoming state and city budgets offers the opportunity to undue this shocking waste of taxpayer money.

Let's not forget the issue of our taxes supporting a private, for-profit venture when our city so desperately needs schools, affordable housing, more teachers and police officers. The plans for this Manhattan project threaten to divert funding for the Second Avenue subway. The city's existing mass transit service needs all the help it can get.

No city or state legislator should approve any budget that gives our funds to a billionaire sports owner. We know Bloomberg and Pataki hope to be sitting high up in a luxury box at the new Manhattan grandstand. But what about those would-be mayors and governors? A plan this big deserves to be an election issue.

The city's Independent Budget Office documented the risks of tax increment financing, public borrowing based on anticipated growth in property taxes. City Hall's involvement with this new domed stadium and the expansion of the Javits Convention Center relies on a payment-in-lieu-of-taxes scheme that acts like tax increment financing. This means that taxpayers will foot the bill.

A project of this magnitude competes with rebuilding lower Manhattan as well as providing office and retail opportunities in the other boroughs. Why should Queens be ignored? The National Tennis Center's success with the U.S. Open makes plain that the well-heeled and those of moderate means will flock to a Queens venue. Didn't the Jets draw well when they played at Willets Point, the home of Shea Stadium?

This part of Queens has what the far West Side lacks: two interstate highways (the Van Wyck and the Long Island Expressway), one limited-access highway (the Grand Central), subway and rail, and even ferry access. Mets owner Fred Wilpon has already envisioned a baseball stadium invoking Ebbets Field to replace the aging Shea Stadium. Adjacent facilities for football and baseball would help the city promote its Olympic bid and provide an appropriate New York home for the Jets and a new field for the Mets.

No public financing would be required. The $800 million the Jets propose to spend on the West Side facility more than covers a Queens state-of-the-art football stadium. Public investment could expand parking there and make the Willets Point station part of the IRT No. 7 express route. The city planners can already see Willets Point without junkyards and body shops. Why not look further at other infrastructure investments such as a one-seat ride linking Willets Point with LaGuardia?

The restaurant, theater and museum complex advanced by the Jets for the far West Side certainly works better nestled north of Flushing Meadows Corona Park. New stadiums and related construction in Queens could provide just as many union jobs as the far West Side development.

Shift the Olympic stadium plans to this Queens site and you'd realize a dream that I and many others have long had for improved city-wide amateur and professional sports facilities. And isn't that what the effort to get us the Olympics should be all about?

It's time that the mayor think outside Manhattan and go deep like a Chad Pennington to Santana Moss pass - to Queens.'Let's not forget the issue of our taxes supporting a private, for-profit venture.'

Copyright © 2004, Newsday, Inc.