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Weprin touts Manhattan for potential Jets stadium

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City Councilman David Weprin (D-Hollis) boldly threw his support behind the development of a Manhattan stadium for the Jets, the football team that once called Flushing home.

After the Jets released an economic analysis of the proposed West Side stadium last week, Weprin said the sports center would be a worthy investment at the controversial site in the rail yards between 11th and 12th avenues and 30th and 33rd streets.

“It will more than pay for itself,” Weprin said in a phone interview last week. Speaking of the Jets’ apparent focus on a Manhattan site, he said “Queens is not going to happen. Let’s not kid ourselves.”

Still, some Queens residents were holding onto the hope that a stadium would be built in Willets Point across from Shea Stadium, where the Jets played from 1964 to 1983. The Jets have since been playing at Giants Stadium in New Jersey.

“The thing is Queens offers the best site,” said David Oats, president of the Queens Olympic Committee. “It has everything the stadium needs.”

Oats represents a small group that has been lobbying to build a stadium in Willets Point, a rundown area of Flushing dominated by auto body shops that is in the city’s plans for redevelopment.

Borough President Helen Marshall announced her intention to create a redevelopment authority for Willets Point earlier this year and said she was interested in seeing a convention center built there.

To Oats, bringing the Jets back to Willets Point makes the most sense.

“They should come back to the glory years when they were in Flushing,” Oats said. The Jets won the Super Bowl in 1970, during their tenure in Shea Stadium.

The relocation of the Jets is not entirely sentimental, however. With the city bidding for the Olympics in 2012, the question of athletic facilities and their locations becomes increasingly relevant.

“We call it Olympic madness,” Oats said. “We think (Weprin) is a traitor to his borough.”

Weprin said the city does not need the Olympics to make the West Side stadium financially viable. But he said that without the stadium, the city has no shot at winning the bid.

“With the Jets offering the largest private stadium investment in history, the question is not whether New York can afford this deal — but how can we afford to pass it up?” Weprin said in his announcement. “Our analysis shows that creating the New York Sports and Convention Center will unleash a flood of economic activity, from new conventions and trade shows to thousands of filled hotel rooms that go unbooked to major events such as the Super Bowl.”

While the construction of the stadium would be privately funded by the Jets, the city and state both pledged to contribute $300 million apiece to build a deck over the existing rail yard at that site.

Jonathan Bowles, the research director for the Center for an Urban Future, a non-partisan development think tank, said he questions whether any public money should be contributed to a development of this scale.

Although he has not researched the issue, Bowles said the Jets could probably make more money from luxury boxes if the stadium were in Manhattan instead of Flushing.

“It’s totally an economic argument,” he said. “I think Queens offers more possibilities because it doesn’t require the city to put in all sorts of infrastructure projects up front.”

The extension of the No. 7 line, which originates in Times Square and ends on Main Street in Flushing, might also be required if the West Side stadium were to become a reality.

Weprin said 70 percent of Jets fans surveyed said they would use public transportation if a stadium were built in Manhattan.

Councilman John Liu (D-Flushing), who is chairman of the Transportation Committee, said he thinks any debate on the location of the stadium is just based on speculation.

“At this time it’s premature for the City Council to comment on the possibility of the proposals for the West Side,” he said. “I’d love to see the Jets come back to the Flushing area.”

Oats said if anything, the West Side stadium would be a deterrent from the city’s securing the 2012 Olympics.

“The Olympic committee will never go for this plan — never,” he said. “There will be nothing better than bringing the Jets back to their home and bringing the Olympics.”

Reach reporter Cynthia Koons by e-mail at news@timesledger.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 141.

Posted 7:02 pm, October 10, 2011
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