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Jets facing major hurdles for new stadium

3/28/2005 - New York Jets

KAPALUA, Hawaii -- Jets president Jay Cross says the team's bid for a 75,000-seat West Manhattan multi-purpose stadium has just entered "the red zone."

On Wednesday, NFL owners voted 31-1 to grant the Big Apple a Super Bowl in 2010 contingent on the new stadium being built. Plans continue to advance for landing the 2012 Olympics. But the red zone, that valuable piece of turf inside an opponent's 20-yard line, is the toughest place to score a touchdown.

The Jets scored touchdowns on 58.1 percent of their red-zone chances last season, and now, the team's stadium project needs to quickly score a touchdown to come true. Field goals won't work. It's touchdown or nothing for New York City's new stadium bid, and the clock just passed the two-minute warning.

"So much time and money have been spent to get this far, and there is only one way to go, which is straight ahead," Cross said after receiving the Super Bowl bid for the City.

Alternate sites don't work at this stage. It's too late. If the Jets can't clear two major hurdles by July, the chances of getting this $1.9 billion stadium (excluding land costs) built, and playing host to the Super Bowl and the Olympics could fall into the Hudson River.

The first hurdle comes Monday. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which owns the rail yard in West Manhattan, will choose among three bids for the land. The Jets offered $720 million. TransGas Energy Systems offered $1 billion. Cablevision, which owns Madison Square Garden and is doing everything possible to block the building of the new football stadium, is offering $600 million.

The winner will be announced next Thursday. Like the NCAA basketball tournament, a loss in this round would end the Jets' chances of getting this stadium.

"We've been at it for four years," Cross said. "It's like a long hurdle race. You have to clear the next hurdle in front of you before you worry about the one after that."

Four years ago, the thoughts of a stadium in Manhattan and a Super Bowl were considered impossible. Cross, a stadium developer, loves tackling the impossible. He built a basketball arena in Miami that wasn't supposed to happen. He helped in the building of the SkyDome in Toronto.

Now, he has momentum. Politicians in the state are lining up daily in support of the project. On Wednesday, Al Sharpton jumped on the bandwagon. Cross has the governor, the mayor and many others pulling for the new stadium. On Wednesday, NFL owners showed their support by voting to approve the Super Bowl bid.

Jets owner Woody Johnson called the Super Bowl award "a landmark day."

"It's important to build a consensus," Cross said. "You need a broad coalition of public support. To have a big membership like the NFL want to bring [its] signature event to New York gives you all of the momentum."

Momentum is one thing. Timing, the second hurdle, is everything. The clock is now ticking. Construction has to begin by July or there is no chance the Jets will be able to open the 2009 season in the new stadium. If that occurs, there is no way a Super Bowl would happen at the facility in 2010.

The stadium, for which the Jets are getting $300 million contributions each from the city and state, features 240 to 250 suites, 8,000 club seats and a retractable roof. Cross said it will take two years to build the deck and three years to build the stadium. However, construction would only take four years since the last part of the deck is the first part of the stadium.

While the 2009 season and subsequent Super Bowl are the driving forces for breaking ground, approval for the Sports and Convention Center and announcement of an Olympic bid also take place in July. However, the stadium is a go with or without the Olympics.

"It will be a great economic catalyst and I think it's great for the NFL and our partnership," Patriots owner Bob Kraft said of the Jets stadium. "I think the Super Bowl in New York will be terrific. I'm happy we had the vote we had to support it and help try to get this new stadium. I think this stadium will be so exciting. I personally think it's one of the real special things we can do in the next few years."

Kraft is particularly excited over what it will do for the West Side of Manhattan, a run down area between 30th and 33rd streets and 10th and 11th avenues.

"You take New York, and you look at that area," Kraft said. "You look at the economic catalyst it can be. What it does in any of these areas from upgrading Jacksonville [Fla.] to the same thing in Detroit and Houston. The Super Bowl creates tremendous exposure. It creates a lot of economic opportunities."

Said Cross: "We turn an urban blight, which is open rail yards and is basically a pit in the middle of the West Side into something."

But everything could unravel if the Jets lose the MTA land sale next week or if construction does not start by July. One of the toughest tasks is competing against Cablevision.

"They will probably throw in as many [roadblocks] as they can," Cross said. "They view us as competition for the Garden, which we view as a little bit of an overkill. All the [top] cities have NBA, NHL and major league baseball. All are competing for the sports entertainment dollar, and it's a very healthy part of our sports economy. To somehow suggest that the island of Manhattan can only support Madison Square Garden and anything else would somehow be the death knell of sports is preposterous."

Still, it's been an amazing process watching the impossible come together to get to this point.

"Four years ago, a lot of people in New York thought it was very difficult to get anything off the ground," Cross said. "There were many who said it was an extraordinary long shot. When I got involved four years ago, I thought it was very possible."

And now, it is, with the success of getting a Super Bowl game. Yet, the battle goes on. For the Jets and New York City, it's Super Bowl or bust.

John Clayton is a senior writer for ESPN.com.