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Jets closer to getting Manhattan stadium

Transportation board accepts $720m offer, raising Olympic hopes

NEW YORK -- A proposed $1.9 billion stadium along the Hudson River designed to lure the 2012 Olympics to New York City cleared its highest hurdle yet yesterday, winning the blessing of the state agency that owns the land and handing a major victory to Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority board unanimously accepted a $720 million offer from the New York Jets, who would return to the city for the first time in a quarter-century.

Bloomberg has made the football stadium the early centerpiece of his reelection campaign, insisting it will create jobs and growth for years to come in a largely underdeveloped frontier of Manhattan.

In a statement, the mayor praised the Jets for investing in the city's future and added, ''But ultimately, New Yorkers will be the big winners if this project becomes reality."

The stadium would also serve as a year-round convention center, which Bloomberg says would deliver millions of dollars and thousands of jobs to the city.

The MTA board rejected proposals with higher dollar figures from Cablevision, which owns Madison Square Garden and had waged an increasingly rancorous battle with the mayor over the stadium, and from TransGas Energy Systems LLC.

The Jets plan was approved after two hours of pitched debate at MTA headquarters in midtown Manhattan.

''Why are you doing this?" demanded Gifford Miller, the City Council speaker and a leading Democratic candidate for mayor. ''Why not wait until the time when we can get the full value?" He added: ''This is not over yet."

Representative Anthony Weiner, another Democratic hopeful for mayor, who favors a stadium in Queens, suggested the lack of consensus on the stadium actually made it less likely the Olympics will come to New York.

''You're going to be sued. You're going to have to explain in court, over months and months and years and years, why it is you chose a lower bid," he said at the MTA hearing.

Olympic officials have said building the stadium is critical to New York's bid. The International Olympic Committee will award the Games in July, with Paris, London, Madrid, and Moscow the other finalists.

A Quinnipiac University poll released before the vote indicated New Yorkers opposed the stadium by 53 percent to 38 percent. Still, asked earlier this week about waiting to decide who should get the land, Bloomberg mused about what would have happened if the city had dragged its feet on building Central Park.

''Every time there was always one more proposal that we should have studied," he said. ''You've got to make decisions and go ahead and do things, and not just be somebody that talks about doing things."

Cablevision lawyer Randy Mastro raised the possibility of a court challenge to the Jets selection. The MTA chairman, Peter Kalikow, said he expected ligitation, ''But we have to look out for our agency, and we voted accordingly."

Under the Jets' plan, the team would provide up to $720 million, $440 million of it coming from six developers who would buy additional rights to eventually plan other buildings around the stadium. The offer would depend on zoning changes. The state and city would pay $600 million for a platform over the railyards that occupy the site now, and for a retractable roof.

Cablevision had offered $760 million, including $400 million upfront cash and the rest in a promise to build the platform. The company saw the stadium and convention center as a threat to Madison Square Garden, a 10-minute walk to the east, where the New York Knicks and New York Rangers play home games.

TransGas offered $1.05 billion, but the energy company's longshot bid was rejected by the MTA board before its vote.

The fight over the stadium has forged peculiar political alliances. Besides union workers, in recent days the Rev. Al Sharpton, who has promised to campaign against Bloomberg, came out in support of the stadium.

But some West Side neighborhood groups have said the stadium would be a boxy eyesore, some urban-planning specialists have called it a poor use of the land, and economists have fretted about an increase in public debt.

The stadium must be approved by the Empire State Development Corp., which has already pledged its support, and by a three-member board of state power players -- Republican Governor George Pataki, Republican state Senate majority leader Joseph Bruno, and Democratic Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver. Bruno and Silver have expressed reservations.

The Jets' current lease with Giants Stadium, across the Hudson in East Rutherford, N.J., runs through 2009. The Jets played at Shea Stadium in Queens until moving to New Jersey in 1984.

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