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Mayor shifts stadium dreams to Queens

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City bid officials spent a frantic 72 hours drafting the plan after an obscure state panel rejected public funds for a Jets stadium on Manhattan's West Side last week, killing a controversial venture and hexing an Olympic scheme with the arena as its centerpiece. Critics of the West Side plan have long clamored for an Olympic stadium in Queens, but Bloomberg repeatedly sneered at the idea, leveling one of his strongest rebuttals in February when he told reporters: "You should get on a plane and go to see the places where the Olympics have taken place. You will realize that Shea Stadium is not of the same order of magnitude or grandeur that the (International Olympic Committee) wants for the Olympics. Nor is it of the same order of magnitude or grandeur that the other cities have promised to either build or already have." But Bloomberg was singing the virtues of an arena in Queens this week after city and Mets officials unveiled initial designs for a $600 million stadium seating 45,000 Sunday - just three weeks away from when the IOC chooses the host city on July 6 in Singapore. New York is competing with Paris, London, Madrid and Moscow for the honor."The facility that we would build around the new Shea stadium will be world class," the mayor said at a news conference in Bayside Monday. "It is located near an enormous amount of mass transit. It is an easy place to provide security ... It's close to the Olympic village. It's close to the hotels where a lot of people will be staying."So what changed?Bloomberg chalked his turnaround up to two things: Team owner Fred Wilpon's decision to relocate the Mets for the 2012 season should the city win the Games and a commitment from the city and state to provide $180 million to upgrade the surrounding infrastructure. "It wasn't our first choice, but it's an awful good alternative," Bloomberg said. Here's how the deal breaks down: The Mets will finance the stadium and build it on the Shea parking lot by the 2009 season. The city will give $85 million for infrastructure upgrades and the state will contribute $75 million. Should New York get the Games, the city will shell out another $100 million to make the new Shea Olympic-ready with a 35,000-seat expansion. The Mets would relocate to Yankee Stadium for the 2012 season and the main press center and international broadcasting center would be erected across the street from Shea in Willets Point, a swath of junk yards and auto shops that would be rezoned and revitalized.Mets owner Fred Wilpon told MLB.com, Major League Baseball's official Web site, that construction will start next year regardless of the Olympic bid outcome. He said the new stadium would resemble Ebbets Field, the former home of the Brooklyn Dodgers. Queens leaders generally praised the venture and said they had no hard feelings about the mayor's past jabs at the borough. "I think he had to say that because there was no other choice for him," said Gerald Rosero, a member of Community Board 4, which governs Flushing. "I think he needs to come out of Manhattan a little bit more and see Queens. We have people from all over the world here." Community Board 3 Chairman Richard A. Cecere, who oversees the neighborhoods of Jackson Heights and East Elmhurst west of Shea, claimed he knew all along the city's "Plan B" included an Olympic stadium in Queens, even if it never admitted it. "How can you have a multibillion-dollar plan without a backup?" asked Cecere, adding that CB 4 formed an Olympic committee years ago to sell City Hall on a Queens stadium. "Now they're coming around. Thank you very much. We're happy to work with you, but we could have been doing this three years ago."Borough President Helen Marshall chose her words carefully when asked Monday if Bloomberg had underestimated Queens. "I wouldn't say he underestimated Queens - he just emphasized Manhattan," Marshall said. That emphasis, however, might prove fatal to the city's Olympic hopes, said David Oats, chairman of the Queens Olympic Committee. "If we don't get the Olympics, I would say it was because he waited too long on an impossible project and didn't listen to common sense," Oats said.Reach reporter Matthew Monks by e-mail at news@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300 ext. 156.

Posted 7:07 pm, October 10, 2011
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