Queens Business: Olympic & Monkey
By MICHAEL SCHENKLER
In addition to having the privilege of directing Queens County’s — if not this region’s —finest local news organization for the past almost quarter of a century, I’ve had the challenge of running a number of media businesses at the same time.
Although my career in community journalism is most visible on these pages, I’ve had the opportunity to write business plans, create newspapers, raise capital, oversee start-ups, serve as president and board of directors member of a publicly traded media company, all from my offices at the Queens Tribune.
For the more than eight years that I served as CEO of News Communications, then a NASDAQ listed company publishing 23 weeklies including the Trib, Dan’s Papers in the Hamptons, Our Town and the West Side Spirit in Manhattan, and The Hill in D.C., the corporate office was in Queens. News Communications during that period was one of the largest publicly traded Queens companies. The Queens Chamber of Commerce recognized me in 1996 as it’s first “Businessman of the Year” running a large business.
No, this column is not about me. I was just trying to lay the groundwork establishing this writer and this news organization as a credible source of Queens business news. I understand it and have lived it.
And it is fitting that this special glossy bound issue of the Queens Tribune is about business. We are indeed, as we declared more than a decade ago, “The Better Business Borough.”
The opportunities exist, the challenges exist and the marketplace exists for entrepreneurial or mega-corporate undertakings. Allow this to serve as an invitation to businesses of all sizes and shapes – to businesses that are merely a thought in creators’ minds to those majors looking for a new cost-effective home or facility in the Big Apple – Queens is here. And Queens is business friendly.
At a recent lunch with Beep Helen Marshall, she came alive when talking about attracting new businesses to the College Point Corporate Park while providing incentives to keep another in Western Queens. We talked of development and futures. Queens is one place where future commerce will grow and prosper. We still have land available, our borough’s population is growing, our workforce is skilled and eager, our extraordinary borough has served as home to many of the city’s success stories, our borough and city elders are prepared to help, and Queens provides access to the most exciting marketplaces anywhere on earth.
Welcome to Queens, it’s business friendly and lots of fun.
Welcome to the Trib’s Queens Business Book; we hope it’s user-friendly, enjoyable and helpful. After you read it, share your thoughts with me — my email address is at the bottom of this page.
I have devoted a great deal of time over the past two months to understand the NYC2012 Olympic plan and its impact on Queens. I have devoted considerable column and news space during the past month trying to tell the story and present a fair analysis concerning the Olympics, Queens and the location of the controversial stadium which is intended as home to the New York Jets and to host the opening and closing Olympic ceremonies and track and field events should New York win the Olympic bid for 2012.
To understand the complexities of the problem and the realities of the selected NYC2012 site and the Queens Olympic Committee’s alternative choice in Willets Point, I met with NYC2012 Executive Director Jay Kriegel, Queens Olympic Committee President David Oats, West Side opponent/Queens proponent former Deputy Mayor of Salt Lake City urban planner Brian Hatch; I chatted in depth on the subject with NY Jets President Jay Cross, Queens Borough President Helen Marshall, and City Council Speaker Giff Miller. There were others – lots of others. I also overused the resources of a busy newsroom to make sure we were up to speed on the Olympics and Queens.
The commitment of our Trib resources made sense because when it comes to news and business, there has been nothing as large, as impactful and offering a long-lasting, positive effect on our borough, city and region, as the opportunity offered by hosting the Olympics eight years from now.
I watched as the 1964 World’s Fair changed the face and infrastructure of my borough and region. From the Verrazano on the west to the Throgs Neck on the north, the City was brought together. I watched as the ’64 Fair gave birth to Shea Stadium, the Long Island Expressway, and today’s Flushing Meadows Park. There were other benefits besides being able to go to that wonderful Fair – there were many.
The Queens we know today, the region we know today, received more funding, more infrastructure improvement as a result of the world coming to our home in 1964 than any other time since the end of the Second World War.
So, the prospect of bringing the world to our home once again offers a lot more than seats for the big event. It offers our region, our city and our borough the opportunity to build for the future. And the plans laid out by NYC Olympic father Deputy Mayor Dan Doctoroff and NYC2012 Executive Director Jay Kriegel, as well as the other changes that would certainly be a part of the world coming back for another visit, will impact our city, opportunities and infrastructure boldly and positively, in a way nothing else could. The Olympics offer a massive opportunity and challenge with a deadline. It will impact our life, our traffic, our economy, our infrastructure and our future. It will afford us the opportunity of resculpting our marvelous city and giving it an up-to-date look with a state-of-the-art technology.
Change is not without some pain and resistance. But all-in-all, it is a clear-cut huge win for New York. Much of that resistance has come in the form of opposition to the selected site of the Olympic/Jet Stadium. As I concluded last week, the Jets made it clear to me that the West Side Stadium is where they want their $800,000,000 (that’s 800 million dollars) and the Queens idea falls behind staying in New Jersey. Under those circumstances, since the Mets’ Fred Wilpon does not seem to think a combo Olympic / new Mets Stadium is worth pursuing, then pouring funds into existing Shea would be the only Queens alternative. I’ve been to Shea. It’s not worthwhile. (On a separate business issue, it is time for Wilpon and the City to get together to build a new home for New York’s Amazins’. But apparently, it can’t happen as part of the Olympic master plan – too bad Fred.)
Hey, although like my friend David Oats, I too would like to dream of a Queens centerpiece, it is at this point in time nothing more than a dream. That leaves Manhattan, the West Side, as the site for the Olympic and Jets Stadium. And although as a car driver, it is far from perfect for me, it is what the Jets want, works with the NYC2012 master plan and seems to fit into a larger West Side development plan which includes a Javitz expansion and a #7 train extension. And if it works for the Olympic bid, we’re prepared to go for the gold.
To my friend David Oats, to Jay Kreigel and to all who have followed the debate in this column, we believe in the absence of a viable Queens alternative, that endorsing the West Side Stadium is in the best interest of the people of our borough and region.
Build the West Side Stadium. But wait just one minute . . .
Let me explain my concern.
There is as part of the Olympic plan an essential $1.5 billion dollar commitment in Queens West to build the Olympic Village which would provide some 4,500 housing units after the Olympics. These affordable housing units are as an essential part of the proposed Olympic legacy as any other aspect of it. Our city needs to keep its middle class.
Queens also gets some $200 million worth of improvements into Flushing Meadows Park and another almost $100 million for the Astoria pool and new Queensbridge athletic center.
With the Olympics, there will of course be other infrastructure and cosmetic improvements. If NYC gets the Olympics, Queens does well. The region prospers.
Manhattan gets the new stadium for $1.5 billion. There will be a non-related expansion of the Javits Convention Center for another roughly $1.5 billion, and also an extension of the #7 for a third $1.5 billion. Add that to the yet to be specified plan to build a new station for the LIRR which extends access from Penn Station to the new West Side Stadium/convention complex and the Manhattan investment approaches $5 billion.
And if the Olympics comes, that’s all fine with me. The region will prosper, the city will prosper, Queens will prosper.
Here’s the rub . . .
Our Olympic planners want to break ground on the West Side Stadium before New York wins the Olympics. They plan to go ahead with the Javits expansion, Olympics or not, and if they can make it happen, they’re going extend the #7 and build a Penn Station railroad extension/station on the West Side. Now the Jets will contribute $800 million; but in total, that would pour some $5 billion into Manhattan without the Olympics and leave nothing for Queens, nothing for schools and nothing much for anything else.
The motivation to prepare the area and region for that certain 2012 deadline would be gone and that tiny island of Manhattan would receive $5 billion – plus in development and there would be no commitments to anything else.
It is the Olympics that insures the commitment to Queens West and affordable housing, to our parks, to the outer borough’s infrastructure. When the eyes of the world are upon us, our city fathers will paint the entire town. Without the Olympics, I fear the outerboroughs and a whole lot else will suffer at the dollar drain of someone’s West Side vision.
It’s really very simple to solve this problem. If NYC2012 is truly committed to bringing the Olympics to a united city, they can merely wait until July of 2005 when the Olympics will be awarded before they go ahead with any significant capital investment.
The planning and review process of the West Side Stadium and the platform on which it will be built will likely not be complete much before the July award date. Why not make winning the Olympics essential for the stadium go-ahead?
The City Council and the State Legislature – my favorite group – must each approve $300 million to build the platform and put a retractable roof on the stadium. They each have the power to approve the expenditure based upon New York winning the Olympics.
Now, who might not be happy with my proposal? The Jets certainly want an unconditional go ahead, but based upon the commitment expressed to me by their president Jay Cross, they would wait the few extra months at most to get their final go ahead.
Those who claim that breaking ground before we win the Olympics shows a commitment to the International Olympic Committee and will help us win the bid are blowing smoke. It has never been done before and there is no need to start construction more than seven years in advance. With luck, even little Athens will meet the deadline this summer. The IOC will not question New York’s ability to build.
Finally, there may be those who are shouting “Olympics” but are really in it to construct some West Side development dream in the name of the Olympics. To them we say no way.
The West Side master plan without the Olympics will strap our resources, promote class and borough conflict, rob funding from the outerboroughs, and do little to unite our wonderful region.
The Olympics is a dream for us all. It will improve our roads, improve our mass transit, refurbish our parks, bring us jobs, bring the outerboroughs closer to Manhattan, and perhaps even Manhattan closer to the outerboroughs. It will build our spirit, our minds and our bodies. It will excite us all and catapult our economy. It will make our entire City alive and well. Even our education system will benefit.
NYC2012 offers our city a goal of improvement with a road map for seven years. It is worthwhile. It is exciting. Bring it on.
But hold those shovels until we win the gold.
Otherwise you’ll never know what you’re burying.