Tuesday, June 07, 2005

STADIUM SHOW. New York Mayor Richie Rich got a kick in the ass this week from Mssrs. Silver and Bruno. It couldn't have happened to a nicer guy.

The West Side Stadium project is in serious trouble now that the Albany bosses have turned against it. The Bloomberg booster section is feeling very wounded. Sighs the Times' Jennifer Steinhauer, the non-vote "call[s] into question whether anyone can build big in New York anymore." She also bemoans the effect of regulations on the Roarkian urge to build, and even drags in the sainted names of Moses and Moynihan -- the former an ur-architect of urban sprawl (whose deserved reputation for fucking up the City has been successfully sloughed onto squeegee men by the City Journal crowd), the latter a lovely, old-fashioned New Yawk pol who was very good at bringing home bacon, and whose ghost may yet pull the planned Penn Station project into reality (which rennaissance was necessitated, of course, by the wrecker legacy of Moses), but whose posthumous opinion of this latest landgrab must eternally remain a mystery.

We do have some enlightened commentary from the New York Press, which has been excellent on the subject:
Whatever the real number of jobs the stadium would create—the Jets claim a dubious 7000—nobody denies that the vast majority will be seasonal, low-paying and without benefits.

Seasonal is the key word here. Even if you grant the project some wildly optimistic projections (35 conventions of three days each, 10 football games, assorted concerts and big ticket events) the stadium will still sit unused and empty almost eight months of the year. When full, the majority of the stadium's economic output is payroll, the majority going to athletes who are unlikely to live in New York full-time. Likewise, most revenue from concessions and merchandise goes to the companies that make them, which tend to be located in the South and Midwest. Money for t-shirts and hot dogs is economic development for Virginia and Pennsylvania, not New York.

As for non-Stadium jobs, the influx of fans and convention-goers just isn't frequent enough to sustain new businesses. The 1994 baseball strike offered stark evidence of this: Sociologist John Zipp studied the impacts of canceled games on retail stores and found that the strike had no significant effect. In fact, in 17 of the 24 cities studied, retail sales increased.
As for the alleged extra income from "events" to be booked under the retractable roof, we are planning to expand the shit out of the Javits Center, an actual, successful venue designed for that sort of thing. (Hey, you think Chuck Schumer talked to Silver about this?)

Remember that when we talk about the West Side Stadium we are talking about a massive tax abatement for the owners-presumptive New Wherever Jets, after a steamrolling process that snatched the Hudson Yards from the real high bidder, Cablevision. This isn't a story of Master Builders brought low by little men, but of power brokers thwarted by power brokers.

This sort of thing goes on all the time in the world of City-soaking corporate juggernauts. Think of Detroit's Comerica Park, built largely with that city's taxpayers' dollars (though not to their profit) at massive expense -- which massive expense just keeps on coming in the form of extra soakage, as reported by Field of Schemes. (FoS is, by the way, an invaluable source of sweet reason on the topic of stadia shenanigans, countervailing the local papers' boosterish bullshit.) To this day Detroit suffers from all sorts of -- what do the freemarket guys call it? Oh yeah -- Unintended Consequences from the Comerica swindle. You think, once ground were broken in this proposed money pit, it'd be different here?

Interestingly, all this crud coincides with some massive early spending by Mayor Rich on his reelection campaign. Our airwaves are flooded with ads showing Real People -- from all walks of life! Of all colors and creeds! Talent vouchers secured! -- extolling the benefits of Bloomberg (the candidate, not the media empire). Some of you readers live here in town, right? How much enthusiasm do you see from actual ordinary people for this guy? What eloquent testimonials have you heard in the streets where these spots were filmed on his behalf?

In a just world, Bloomberg would be worried about assassination, not reelection. But New York is in a bad place right now. There are no fires being lit by any local populists -- how could there be, in a City increasingly populated by transients: rootless careerists, and immigrants who do not plan to stick around -- and so the political center -- not positioned between "left" and "right," but between "this gang" and "that gang" -- however rotten and mushy, yet holds. So you won't see massive uprisings and street demos of citizens hollering for, or against, the stadium in its hour of crisis -- because few believe it makes any difference. On this subject the street is dead. Let the big boys fight it out, we figure; we're busy trying to make ends meet.

We are but spectators at the great board meetings that decide our City's future. Still, given those terms, the recent reversal, and the pique apparent on the Mayor's normally smug face afterwards, was a pretty edifying spectacle.


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