Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Stadium Deal Down and Out

It now appears that the Jets stadium is all but finished. Speaker Silver’s announcement of his opposition dooms the Jets deal and all that awaits is the singing of the fat Olympic Committee Lady. If the stadium’s final demise does occur what is the lesson we can derive from this incredible expenditure of private resources and political capital?

Top Down Planning Doesn’t Always Work

The Bloomberg-Doctoroff team is used to working in a private sector mode and consensus building is not their strong point. They went about wooing constituencies who had a potential stake in the building (unions, real estate companies) but were not as adept at developing a political constituency for they assumed that they could muscle the deal through. No real effort was made to create support in the impacted community and the larger concept, the Olympics itself, was also sold at a level way beyond the grassroots.

Dolan Not Anticipated

The proverbial stopped clock, Jim Dolan, was as obsessed at stopping the stadium as Doctoroff was in building it. Dolan’s millions animated and galvanized the generic opposition of Clinton, Chelsea and the rest of the West Side. As self-serving as Dolan was, however, the tactics of the Bloomberg team enabled his message to resonate as a public service. No one seemed to care that Cablevision was protecting its turf.

Heavy Handedness

The arrogance of the mayor and Deputy Dan was the impetus that allowed Dolan’s message to find a responsive audience. The attempt to simply give the MTA property away, as if it were the back twenty acres of the Bloomberg ranch, made the development appear to be nothing more than a sweetheart deal of the billionaires. Once this impression sunk in it didn’t matter what Dolan’s motivation was.

Larger Implications

The downfall of the stadium should be an object lesson for Bloomberg, especially if the mayor is able to be reelected. The Center for an Urban Future report gives a glimpse of the key issue: top-down planning with little input from impacted communities. The other issue, less discussed but equally as significant, is the tendency of this administration (especially the deputy mayor) to look to sole source development projects to one company.

This tendency is bad enough but is made worse by the fact that the one company, Related, is animated by a smug arrogance that looks askance at creating community support. Oh yes, they will look to generate some support by trotting out all the development clichés but they definitely will not attempt to find stakeholders or create working partnerships with host communities.

The Bronx Terminal Market as Symbolic

All of which becomes manifest when we look at the BTM deal from top to bottom. Related is sole sourced with no alternative vision for the BTM space. Local businesses are seen as irrelevant or are simply swept under the rug. Tens of millions of dollars of public money is made available without any due diligence and a sweetheart lease is brokered that will enrich the Related Companies for the next 99 years.

Exacerbating this public fiasco is the mendacious behavior of EDC, exhibiting chutzpah in its audacious characterization of this entire scheme as a private deal. This was a public deal from beginning to end and, absent Deputy Dan, would not have been deeded over to Related for the proverbial hill of beans.

Public Market Private Property

All of this reminds us of another public/private market irony. When Giuliani passed his Local Law 28, it was defined as the “Public Markets Law.” When the workers at the Hunts Point Market sought access to an individual business in order to lawfully picket, however, the public market got transformed into private property and the workers were banned. In the case of the Bronx Terminal Market, the market lease deal is characterized as “private” for the purposes of cloaking this sole source cronyism. Yet the execution of this deal, its MOU and its public subsidies, are done with the clear indication of how much this deal is a public sector creation.