In New York, a state-run agency in charge of public transportation has taken a major, and controversial step, boosting the city's bid for the 2012 Summer Olympics. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority, or MTA, voted unanimously to sell a parcel of land to the Jets football team to build an Olympic-sized stadium in midtown Manhattan. The stadium is the centerpiece of Mayor Michael Bloomberg's effort to win the bid to stage the Olympic games.
The MTA's decision to sell one of the world's most valuable pieces of undeveloped urban land to the Jets was expected. But the vote followed months of heated debate and protest that galvanized the city and forced the MTA to open up the bidding process a month ago.
Two other bidders, including a major sports competitor, put in offers for the derelict railroad yards located near the city's convention center and the Hudson River. The Jets won with an offer of 720 million dollars and the promise to built a 75-thousand-seat stadium at a cost of almost two- billion-dollars.
Supporters, including Mayor Bloomberg and former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, say the stadium is critical to the city's bid for the 2012 Olympic Games. They also say the return of the Jets from the neighboring state of New Jersey and the construction of the stadium will create thousands of jobs. The National Football League has promised to hold the Superbowl, one of the most lucrative events in U.S. professional sports, in New York in 2010 if the stadium is built. Many union workers and minority workers, addressed the MTA board just before the vote. Kevin Crowley is an iron worker
"Right now we are in a rundown neighborhood. Everybody is saying you should wait, you are going too fast. This has been going on for 80 years. Eighty years that eyesore railroad yard has been sitting there and nobody wanted that. You could not give that property away. Now it is time. We want to build something and we could rejuvenate an area that needs it," he said.
Opposition has been equally passionate. Opponents say the stadium will create endless traffic jams and higher rents. They say competitors are willing to pay more for the site and to build much needed housing. Many longtime residents like Frederic Suraskey say the stadium can be built in other parts of New York without jeopardizing jobs and overcrowding the neighborhood.
"I am a proud union member. I want to say one thing to the construction workers here. Think about it. If you build a plan which has mixed housing, which would make our neighborhood a better place to live and if you built the stadium in Queens, you would have twice as many jobs as this narrow-minded plan. Furthermore, if it is an Olympic problem, the International Olympic Committee does not care where the stadium is built," he said.
The fight is not yet over. At least two more agencies must approve the plans, but the MTA decision was the biggest hurdle. A public opinion poll released by Quinnipiac University on the day of the vote shows that 53-percent of New Yorkers oppose the West Side stadium proposal.
But MTA chair Peter Kalikow says the stadium is just the latest in a long list of building projects, including Rockefeller Center, that had to win over public support. "We need to remember that all the great projects that we have built in the last century were probably built over the objection of some local group in the community. There was an uproar about Rock(efeller) Center. Rock Center is on the national register of great places in the United States. There was a war over the building of that when it was built. My prediction is that it (the stadium) will be one of the great parts of this city," he said.
The poll also shows that Mayor Bloomberg is losing some of his support because he has championed the stadium. The message has not been lost on rivals for his job, including City Council President Gifford Miller, a leading opponent of the proposal. "This is a terrible thing for New York. I urge you to take a step back and really consider whether it is worth it to this subway and bus and transit system to give away this much taxpayer money to built a football stadium we do not want and we do not need," he said.
Opponents say they intend to challenge the decision in court.