By Maurice Pinzon
Yesterday the Mayor’s Office announced that U.S. Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton had agreed to participate in New York’s Olympic bid presentation to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in Singapore. In Singapore Senator Clinton will join about 40 Olympians including Muhammad Ali. Earlier in the week, Mayor Bloomberg invited Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to attend a send-off rally in City Hall Park for the delegation headed to Singapore.
But with just four days left before the IOC selects the host city for the 2012 Olympics, Queens residents will have little opportunity to respond to the Olympic committee’s plan to build a new stadium and media center in their borough. Manhattan residents, however, had months, if not years, to weigh in on the emerging details about the Olympic stadium.
Public opinion polls conducted about the Olympic stadium in Manhattan usually showed a decrease in public support once people learned how much money the City would have to invest in the stadium.
A large portion of Queens elected officials supported the Jets – Olympic Stadium on the West Side of Manhattan, thus leaving Queens residents vulnerable to having to accept the last minute plans thrust upon the borough by the Bloomberg administration and NYC 2012.
The Queens elected officials in effect allowed Queens to be taken for granted as the “Plan B” site with little time for review. The Queens delegation included, Congressman Joseph Crowley and Queens Borough President Helen M. Marshall, 10 out of the 14 members representing Queens in the city council, Joseph P. Addabbo Jr., Tony Avella, Leroy G. Comrie Jr., Dennis P. Gallagher, James F. Gennaro, Allan W. Jennings, John C. Liu, Hiram Monserrate, Helen Sears and David I. Weprin.
Thirteen out of 18 Queens assembly members: Brian McLaughlin, Ann Margaret Carrozza, Barbara M. Clark, Michael N. Gianaris, Nettie Mayerson, Jimmy Ming, Catherine T. Nolan, Jose R. Peralta, Audrey I. Pheffer, William Scarborough, Anthony S. Seminerio, Michele R. Titus and Marc Weprin. And 4 of 7 Queens state senators, Serphin R. Maltese, Ada L. Smith, Malcolm A. Smith and Toby Ann Stavisky.
It is not clear if these legislators thought the economic development arguments the Bloomberg administration was making, that a Jets – Olympic stadium would benefit the West Side, would not apply to Queens, or if the legislators agreed with Mayor Bloomberg that submitting the City’s Olympic bid with a stadium located in Queens was not the best way to get the bid.
Under the current proposal for a new Mets Stadium, the City would invest $85 million in infrastructure and site preparation costs. An additional $75 million would come from New York State. If New York is selected in Singapore on July 6 to host the Olympic Games, the stadium would temporarily be converted into an 80,000 seat Olympic stadium at an additional cost to the City and State of $108 million.
Although the Mets would build the new stadium and pay for it with their private money, it would still be located at Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, just east of where Shea Stadium now stands. The Mets would no longer pay rent for the stadium since they would own the facility, but they would also not pay any rent on the land. And it is still not clear the full extent of the tax benefits the Mets would receive or the revenues the Mets would share with the City from the parking fees or other potential revenue streams.
These are accounting matters presumably to be ironed out later.
But the Mets track record is spotty in this regard. In a July 2003 audit conducted by Comptroller William C. Thompson, the comptroller recommended that the Mets pay $4.5 million. The audit indicated the Mets owed $1.2 million to the City in addition to $3.4 million the team had yet to pay from previous assessments for a total amount of $4.5 million. While the audit was being conducted the Mets paid $590,113 and eventually settled with the City’s Law Department for $2.75 million.
Although no legal action was taken against the Mets by the Law Department, at the time of the audit’s release in a statement Comptroller Thompson said, “The amount the Mets owe from this audit is startling, but when you add millions more from previous audits, this pattern becomes particularly troubling.”
At the request of the Parks Department, the comptroller’s office is currently conducting another audit for calendar year 2002.
Furthermore, if New York does win the Olympic bid, the International Broadcast Center and Media Center would be located in Willets Point, a neighborhood in which much of the property is privately owned. An additional large track along the waterfront is owned by the MTA. Communications with Flushing Community Board 7, which covers both downtown Flushing and Willets Points, was just about shut down after the City’s bidding process was initiated for a track of land in downtown Flushing and after EDC issued its Willets Point RFEI. (See our article The Other Sports and Convention Center).
Nevertheless, the New York City Economic Development Corporation moved forward and issued a Request for Expressions of Interest (RFEI). Until now it has refused requests from New York News Network and others to release the list of companies or organizations that have proposed to develop the Willets Point site.
Independently, New York News Network has received confirmation from the Queens Chamber of Commerce and the real estate development company Forest City Ratner – which hopes to build a controversial Nets basketball arena in Brooklyn – that each has submitted a proposal in response to EDC’s Willets Point RFEI.
The change in location from Manhattan’s West Side to Queens required NYC2012 to revise the “candidature file” it submitted to the IOC. But Laz Benitez, a spokesman for NYC2012, told New York News Network that specifics about NYC2012’s revised bid – which includes a new Mets stadium that could be expanded into an Olympic stadium if New York wins the bid – and the International Broadcast Center and Media Center, cannot be released until the IOC approves the revised plan. As of this writing NYC 2012 has not released to the public any details on the revised plan aside from a rough sketch of the proposed Olympic stadium.
According to the IOC’s guidelines, the bid New York City submits is a legally binding document that carries the “Force of Obligation”. The text contains this highlighted portion: “It is very important to remember that all representations, statements and other commitments contained in the Candidature File are binding in the event that the city in question is elected to host the Olympic Games.”
In a telephone interview yesterday with City Council member Hiram Monserrate, who represents the Queens district where the new Olympic stadium and media facilities would be located, Mr. Monserrate said that Deputy Mayor Daniel L. Doctoroff had briefed him and other council members about the new stadium. But the council member conceded the presentation was not very detailed. Council member Monserrate indicated that he still had “concerns about the secrecy of this proposal.”
He added, “I will be working towards ensuring that this process is transparent and that there’s a community benefit agreement for the people of Queens.”
Jordan Barowitz a spokesman for Mayor Bloomberg said, “There is overwhelming support for the new stadium not only in the borough of Queens but across the City.”