Harvard Design School professor Alex Krieger’s widely-reported contract with media giant Cablevision has placed him at the center of a bitter battle over development rights on Manhattan’s West Side.
Krieger, who is professor in practice of urban design and best known on campus as the lecturer in the popular undergraduate core class Literature and Arts B-20 “Designing the American City” is in the midst of an uphill struggle to halt the construction of a pricey professional sports stadium along the Hudson.
The proposed stadium, supported by city and state officials in New York, would house the National Football League’s New York Jets—and would serve as a venue for Olympic events if the Big Apple is selected to host the 2012 Summer Games.
But Cablevision opposes the plan for the new stadium, which could pose a threat to the dominance of the company’s own Madison Square Garden (MSG).
Although Krieger is personally opposed to the construction of a stadium on the West Side’s vacant but valuable railyards, he recognizes that his client has its own motives for sacking the Jets’ plans.
“Cablevision’s interest first and foremost was to protect its interest in Madison Square Garden as a sports and entertainment venue,” Krieger says. Cablevision owns a 60 percent controlling stake in MSG.
Andrew Lynn, MSG’s vice president of development, says that when he hired Krieger, he gave the professor a specific charge: to design a high-density residential development that would provide access to the waterfront and maximize open space.
Krieger’s plan for the 13-acre site contains schools, a library, retail space, and 5,000 to 6,000 units of housing— some of which would be subsidized.
“We drew our inspiration from other parts of Manhattan, which is dense, tall, and for mixed use,” Krieger says. “This is one of the largest undeveloped sites in all of Manhattan.”
Lynn said that Cablevision was thrilled to secure Krieger’s services.
“He had done a lot of work for major cities on their waterfronts. I was impressed by that piece of his background and from seeing some of those plans,” Lynn says. “He was my first choice.”
Krieger’s impressive resume includes several high-profile design projects, including a plan to revitalize the Anacostia waterfront in Washington, D.C.
GOING FOR THE GOLD
Krieger’s vision for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) space went up against the Jets’ vision for a permanent Manhattan stadium. The team currently shares space with the New York Giants in New Jersey’s Meadowlands.
On April 1, the MTA accepted the Jets’ bid for the space.
Five days later, Cablevision sued the MTA, the City of New York, and the Jets.
“The bidding was rigged against us,” Lynn says.
Krieger speculates that the reason the MTA selected the Jets’ proposal had nothing to do with the quality of the team’s plan for the stadium.
“It has to do with ambition and commitment on the City of New York to land the Olympics,” he says. “For a number of years now, the city has marshaled most of its public forces on behalf of an Olympic bid.”
Paris is widely considered the front-runner for the 2012 games. London, Madrid, and Moscow are also vying to host the event.
According to Krieger, part of the reason why his firm, Chan Krieger & Associates, was commissioned to design the Cablevision bid was because of its location in Cambridge, which is removed from the site of the West Side wrangling.
“We were not already embroiled in the controversy one way or another,” Krieger says. While a design firm that opposed the city’s development plans could potentially face trouble garnering municipal contracts in the future, “we were not fearful of not getting other work in NYC,” Krieger says.
Although the Jets’ bid was officially accepted by the MTA, Krieger says that if New York is not selected this July as the site for the 2012 Olympics, the MTA might reopen the bidding process.
In that event, Krieger says, “I suspect a much longer bidding process will emerge. There will be another request for proposals. The Jets might submit again. I’m sure Cablevision will submit.”
And Krieger’s grand vision could finally become reality.
THE JETS SUIT UP
In the meantime, the fate of Krieger’s plan could be determined in court.
In a lawsuit filed in the New York State Supreme Court earlier this month, Cablevision charges that the MTA gave bidders insufficient time to develop alternatives to the Jets’ proposal.
“We only had 27 days from when we got the [request for proposal] to when we had to respond,” Lynn says. “For something of this size and complication, it was very difficult to do the work.”
Krieger says the nature of the space and the tightness of the time constraints demanded constant work from a team of designers.
“We commissioned a professional model maker. We commissioned renderers for 3-D perspective views,” Krieger says. “It was a elaborate and exhausting process. It certainly required more time than we had.”
Lynn says that the lawsuit would also address the fact that the rules for the bidding process were wrought with inconsistencies.
“They set a bunch of ground rules at the beginning and changed the rules to give the Jets an advantage,” Lynn says. “There are certain requirements that public agencies and authorities must follow. It has to be a fair process.”
Even prior to the MTA’s request for proposals, Cablevision suspected foul play, according to Lynn. The MTA officials were negotiating exclusively with the Jets, without holding an open bidding process, Krieger says.
At that time, the Jets had only offered the city $150 million for the space. To make itself a contender and force a bidding process, Cablevision offered the MTA $650 million for the contract.
Cablevision’s bid forced the MTA to open the bidding process, Krieger said.
“It couldn’t simply ignore the fact that there was another bid which offered much more money,” he says.
Eventually, the Jets responded with a $720 million bid for the space, which was still $40 million shy of Cablevision’s final offer.
The City’s acceptance of a lower bid is also motivating the lawsuit.
“We think the members of the board at the MTA have a fiduciary obligation to get the highest value for the MTA and all of the people who use the transit system,” Lynn says. “That part is true especially because they have a massive budget crunch.”
And one expert, Allen Sanderson—an economist at the University of Chicago who has studied the economics of sports—says that a football stadium is a bad investment for the citizens of New York.
“There are two things you don’t want to put on that property,” Sanderson said in an interview. “One is a cemetery and the other is a stadium.”
Even if the Olympics comes to New York, Sanderson says the event will not provide any net economic benefit to the city.
“It plays on people’s emotions and psyche when in fact it’s kind of a pain,” Sanderson says.
Krieger emphasizes the fact that the space on the West Side is one of the only remaining undeveloped lots in New York.
“It just seems like the wrong site—it’s not that football stadiums are bad,” Krieger says. “Housing, open space, retail services, cultural facilities—these are the things that the west end of Midtown could benefit from, opposed to a big blank box that is used occasionally.”
—Staff writer Sarah E.F. Milov can be reached at email@example.com.