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Newark Mayor Booker: "I believe the project in Brooklyn is not going to work"

Last night, the WBGO radio show Newark Today with Mayor Cory Booker, was supposed to focus on environmental issues, but, as with shows in February and March, discussion of the Nets was inevitable.

The show last night led off with basketball. In anticipation of Atlantic Yards falling through--a concept Nets officials adamantly resist--proponents of repairing the Izod Center, the team's current home in the Meadowlands, are crossing swords with Booker and other backers of the nearly-new Prudential Center in Newark.

While Booker had previously lobbied Gov. Jon Corzine not to spend state funds to improve the antiquated Izod Center, on Wednesday, eight legislators from Bergen County called on Corzine to do just that, calling for the state to run "the Rock" in Newark and better coordinate operation of the two arenas, which compete most notably for concerts.

(Here's a blog on the complexity of a deal from Star-Ledger columnist Joan Whitlow.)

Need for coordination

Booker acknowledged on the air that he might have better communicated his demands verbally rather than in writing--Corzine has reason to be non-committal, given his unwillingness to offend either faction during his run this year for re-election.

"The reality is: It is what it is," Booker said. "We must have a larger vision for these two areas... We can no longer afford to have the kind of competition which is hurting both areas."

Brooklyn: "not going to work"

"For the Nets, specifically, it's obvious that the team will make the right decision" about where to play, Booker said.

"Let me tell you exactly what I think is going to happen," Booker continued. "I believe the project in Brooklyn is not going to work and not going to go forward. I believe the team's going to be put up for sale. I think there's going to be a national competition for it, because people want the team, from Seattle to New Jersey. I think New Jersey cannot afford to lose the Nets, so we're working double time to make sure that, when that opportunity comes, it's bought by New Jersey investors with the intention of putting the team in Newark."

Losing the team?

Host Andrew Meyer asked if there really was a risk of losing the team to Seattle. (The Seattle SuperSonics, unable to get a revamped arena, left for a smaller but much more eager market, and became the Oklahoma City Thunder.)

"If that team goes up for sale, there are a lot of cities that want NBA basketball," Booker said, citing Seattle and Kansas City (where there's a new but empty arena, as The Atlantic reports).

Still, if Los Angeles can support two teams, so could the New York metro area, and those skeptical of the Seattle option think that the NBA would resist a Nets move out of the area.

The business case

Booker went on to make his case for keeping the Nets in New Jersey, first citing "the jobs it will create and the revenue it will bring to our state." Arguably, an in-state move would create relatively few jobs and tax revenue associated with the team, though significantly increased attendance could generate the former.

Booker does have an argument that more activity at the Prudential Center could catalyze stalled development in Downtown Newark, which, unlike Brooklyn, has not had a hot real estate economy.

Booker said he was not concerned about the battle between the Izod and Prudential, given that "the owners of the team are going to decide where that team wants to play" and that a "bottom-line analysis of the revenue opportunities" favor Newark.

The Bloomberg endorsement

Booker, a Democrat who's black, recently endorsed (a nominal Republican who's white) New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg's bid for a third-term, part of the cascade of endorsements Bloomberg is collecting to stave off the expected challenge from Comptroller Bill Thompson, a Democrat who's black.

"Does he really need your endorsement?" interviewer Meyer asked.

"Well, he asked for it," Booker said, calling Bloomberg "a phenomenal guy" whose administration has helped and partnered with Newark on issues like keeping guns off the street, climate change, counter-terrorism, and the fight against drugs.

Could Booker's endorsement be connected to some deal about ultimately delivering the Nets to Newark, as a few people speculated to me? There's no evidence of that, of course, and Booker was not lacking for other reasons. But we'll see how things play out.

The Observer on Bloomberg

Now that President Barack Obama (another Democrat who's black) has called Bloomberg "outstanding," the mayor will be piling on, the New York Observer reports this week:
But for the Bloomberg campaign—which has virtually unlimited resources at its disposal and has hired so many accomplished consultants and operatives that idleness might be a real problem—the unofficial endorsement from an exceedingly popular Democratic president was merely part of a plan to run him as a progressive champion for, if not of, the city’s dominant party.

...According to the campaign, the coming month will be punctuated by crushingly regular announcements of endorsements representing an array of once reliably Democratic constituencies: unions; black, Latino and Jewish clergy; black and Latino elected officials; progressive civic groups.

The goal is to realign the Democratic establishment in the mayor’s favor and mitigate—obliterate, really—the significance of the obligatory, half-hearted endorsements of Mr. Thompson to come, late and unenthusiastically, from Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand and David Paterson.


  1. I'm surprised that mayor booker thinks there will be a national bidding war for the nets when ratner eventually puts them up for sale.

    Booker cites seattle and kansas city as potential bidders, both of which i find extremely far-fetched.

    Washington legislators, in far better economic & budgetary times than they currently face, repeatedly rejected bills to fund a new arena in seattle. And they did so knowing full well that the sonics would leave town as a result. It's highly unlikey that the legislators will change their minds on this one.

    As for kansas city, it does have the sprint center, which opened in late-2007. However, kansas city has already proven itself to be a terrible location for both nba and nhl franchises.

    The nba's kansas city kings lasted just 11 years ... 1974-85 ... before leaving for the far greener ($$$$$) pastures of sacramento. The kings' attendance in k.c. was well-below the league norm. They averaged more than 10,000 fans/game only once during those 11 seasons, despite playing in the state-of-the-art, centrally located kemper arena.

    The nhl's kansas city scouts lasted all of 2 seasons ... 1974-76 ... before they flew the coop to denver and later to the garden state, where they became the nj devils in 1982 and have remained ever since.

    Other cities that have been mentioned as potential bidders for the nets include las vegas, st. louis and san jose. But again, none of these cities have state-of-the-art arenas like newark does. Nor do they have television markets that are comparable to the metro-ny area, which means that local broadcast rights would be worth millions of dollars less per season than in newark.

    Las Vegas has the additional problems of legalized gambling, heavy competition for the entertainment dollar and a high percentage of the fan-base working evening hours in the hospitality industry, when 95% of nba games are played. When the utah jazz played 10 regular-season games in vegas during the 1983-84 season, the stands were virtually empty.

    Mayor Booker's talk of a bidding war for the nets may simply be an attempt to pressure/persuade ratner into putting the team up for sale as soon as possible.


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