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Game Plans for New Stadiums

Being a host city to a big-league sports team carries the cachet of being seen as a big-league place. No city with an NFL or Major League Baseball franchise fails to tout that image.

But when public financing is requested to build a stadium or renovate an old one - rather than putting that money into schools, senior housing, or other such uses, more than cachet is called for. There must be an economic return that justifies any public investment. A new "state-of-the-art" facility has to make economic sense in the eyes of taxpayers and elected officials, not just a team's owners and local businesses.

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New York City now faces that test over a proposal to build a $1.7 billion stadium on Manhattan's West Side for its football team, the Jets. Both the city and the state are considering whether to pony up $300 million each, with the Jets paying the rest. The success or failure of these efforts is likely to prove a 21st-century model for what it takes to get something built, or not. (Dallas, San Diego, and Minneapolis are likewise considering public funding for new stadiums.)

Before a shovel breaks dirt, a team needs to prove that what gets built earns public money. It must be persuasive that construction bonds, backed by realistic estimates of tax revenue from increased economic activities, can be repaid.

That's possible here because the Jets want to build a retractable-dome, all-weather building (situated next to the Jacob Javits Convention Center). Local workers would be able to transform a place of football into a convention center, banquet facility, or concert venue in less than 24 hours. In the competition for public resources, such a multiuse plan makes sense.


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