Robert Wood Johnson IV is the billionaire owner of the New York Jets, an American football team which plays in New Jersey, as its crosstown rivals, the New York Giants, also do. Big Bagel real estate is much too expensive to waste on football stadiums, or so the saying goes. Mayor Mike Bloomberg is also a billionaire, and the two of them — the trust-fund baby and the self-made one — have recently joined in an unholy alliance to make Woody the IV even richer.
Let’s take it from the top. Some time ago, Woody the IV craned his neck from across the Hudson River, where his Jets were going through their paces, and noticed an enormous parcel of unbuilt real estate on lower Manhattan’s west side riverfront. I suppose his heart must have skipped a beat or two, and surely must have felt a bit like Colombus’s upon first encountering land back in 1492. Unlike Christoforo, Woody the IV knew exactly where he was and what he was looking at. A waterfront property right up against the Hudson and within walking distance of Times Square. So he rang his buddy Bloomberg with a proposal. Why not have the city pay the lion’s share for a Jets football stadium on the publicly owned property so that he, the IV, could house his privately owned team? Brilliant, said Bloomy. Mayor Mike then went to work. He persuaded the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which owns the real estate, to hand it over to Woody (his nickname among his buddies) for a price way below — hundreds of millions, in fact, shy of — its real value. Everything was hunky-dory, even when it transpired that the $600 million subsidy was equivalent to what Woody had paid for his football franchise.
Busybodies then went to work. It seems that the 75,000-seat stadium, which borders traffic-jammed neighbourhoods like Hell’s Kitchen, Chelsea and Times Square, had no provisions for parking. (There’s no room.) Now unless one has a chauffeured car or takes public transport, there is no way to drive one’s kiddies or friends to a carpark for some hot dogs and beer before the game — an American institution called a tailgate party — which would eliminate an important Sunday tradition. Worse, the price began climbing faster than Lily Safra and Mouna Al, whatever/however her name is combined: from $1.4 billion to $1.7 to $2 billion and, now, $2.2 billion. The land, in the meantime, appraised by the MTA at 923 million greenbacks, is supposed to be sold to the IV for a mere $250 million, a subsidy from the cash-strapped Bagel of $700 million. It pays to be a billionaire.
Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not exactly the type to dislike the rich, especially when they got it the old-fashioned way, through inheritance. But whoever thought this one up should be sent to Guantanamo for some serious re-education on ethics. Added to the $600 million in public funds that the mayor pledged from the beginning, we’re talking about a giveaway of $1.3 billion. It sounds to me like the best deal since the Dutch bought Manhattan from the Indians for less than $25. The difference being there are very few Red Indians left in Manhattan, although perhaps the mayor is unaware of the fact. Mind you, the deal ain’t done yet. There’s a spoilsport by the name of Sheldon Silver, the speaker of the state assembly, who is dragging his feet. Silver has pointed out that the Jets are a franchise which is phenomenally successful and profitable. The games are sold out for the next ten years, so if an everyday Joe wants to buy a ticket he will have to wait for ten years (unless he can afford one of the staggeringly expensive luxury suites). Yet Woody the IV has come to the city cap in hand asking it to pay for most of the new stadium. It’s as if Glazer had gone to Manchester city council and asked it to pay for his purchase of United shares. (Which in a way he has.)
Never mind. It’s nice to have rich friends, and mayor Mike and Woody the IV will eventually find a way. Bloomy always does. He has managed to kill small bars and cocktail lounges with his total ban on smoking. The quality of life in the Big Bagel has not collapsed, not by a long shot, since Rudy Giuliani blew town, but it has diminished. I see it in Central Park, where bikers openly flout the laws about biking on pathways, and on the streets, where spitting has become de rigueur and blowing car horns is more prevalent than in Karachi. Mike believes in clean indoor air, and to hell with the outdoors. Idling the engine for hours on end is a particular Bagel habit, as if petrol were free and fumes were good for one. I have yet to see one limo driver waiting with the engine turned off. But how could Mike know? He has always lied about his height, and, when fully stretched, he’s still underneath the exhaust pipe when behind a car. Fumes, after all, are known to rise. Like the cost of the stadium. Billionaires of the world unite. You have nothing to lose but a parking lot.