That comment came as Booker was interviewed last Thursday, February 5, on Newark Today with Mayor Cory Booker, a public affairs show on WBGO, Newark's public radio station, hosted by Andrew Meyer.
State of the City
Booker was more circumspect Monday night, apparently not mentioning the Nets during his State of the City address.
Actually, as the Star-Ledger's Brian Donohue explained in the video report Ledger Live, Booker's prepared--but not delivered--text included a planned slip. As the mayor discussed bringing different types of investments to the city, he was to say, "We're excited to see what's NETS... I mean, next."
WBGO's Meyer was interviewed about Booker's speech yesterday, on All Things Considered , at about 38:15 of the second hour. Beginning at about 42:15, Meyer was asked what Booker didn't talk about.
AM: I would almost say the New Jersey Nets. Now, he did have a quick reference to the Nets. [It's not clear whether Meyer was referring to the prepared text or not.]
But the big question right now, one of the big questions in the city is: what's going to happen with the Nets. They're waiting for their arena to be built in Brooklyn. But many people are saying, "Look, you've got this brand new sports arena right in downtown Newark where the [hockey New Jersey] Devils are playing... this would be an ideal location to bring the Nets. It's ready to go; they can just walk in and it's theirs." So, there's a lot of speculation about whether or not that team is going to end up here. Mayor Booker's holding his cards very tight to the vest on this one. We pressed him time and time again, and he'll just say that his staff would be very angry with him if he was to tip any details. But he says there are discussions going on there.
On WBGO, "out on a limb"
Last Thursday, however, the mayor was not reticent. The sequence began at about 35:10 of the show; both Booker and host Meyer sounded notably enthusiastic.
CB: Our city in the next three years is going to have the most exciting things happening in our downtown. And I can't wait. And I'm going to go out on a limb right now. When we start seeing things like the Nets return to Newark--and I say return, but come--
AM: --You read my mind, Mayor... When are they coming? What do you know?
CB:I tell you this. I am putting a considerable amount of time into this, strategies, working behind the scenes. I really don't want to go too far out on a limb and my staff is going to jump all over me because--
(Last May 1 the Star-Ledger reported on efforts by the city administration and Devils owner Jeff Vanderbeek to assemble an ownership group to buy the Nets.)
Brooklyn a mirage?
AM: Well, let me put out there what we know. We have a contributor here who's been tracking the project closely, and he's said basically that the Atlantic Yards in Brooklyn has ground to a halt, Bruce Ratner, the developer, is not moving forward with the arena, supposedly until all the lawsuits over eminent domain are settled, and they're not even due to go to trial until next year. You combine that with the lack of financing available for big projects and, y'know, the Brooklyn Nets seem more and more like a mirage.
Actually, the eminent domain lawsuit will be heard in less than two weeks (and a decision in the EIS case is pending). Forest City Ratner executives assert that construction would begin in mid-2009.
Booker remained enthusiastic
CB: I'm telling you right now I have it fixed in my mind. Every single day I think about it, that we're going to have the Newark Nets one day. It's taking a lot of work on both sides of the river, and there are a lot of people from Brooklyn to Newark that believe that that team belongs here. What it's going to mean for our city is, just like the bars and restaurants that I was around [downtown], on Super Bowl Sunday. It means another 50 nights of tens of thousands of people coming to the city of Newark. It means parking tax for the city, payroll tax for the city, it means more economic development, more minority businesses are going to open up in our downtown through our loan fund. It would make a tremendous difference, and create an incredible excitement, it's something I'm working very hard on, and I'm hoping that will be successful.
The rent and the parking
Meyer also brought up the dispute about the $2 million rent the New Jersey Devils, the primary tenant of the Prudential Center, allegedly owe the city.
Booker said the issue was in arbitration and "I will not yield." However, he said that the Devils "make a tremendous amount of contributions: to the community, so, while the city should demand every dollar it deserves, it should "continue to build the strength and steam of that institution."
Meyer brought up complaints that it costs $40 for parking near the arena. "Those are midtown Manhattan prices," he said.
Booker's response: "What I'm going to simply say is take public transportation... We're perfectly located in the middle of a great transportation hub." He also pointed out that, if visitors were willing to walk, parking was less costly a little farther from the arena.