Brooklyn Woos Nets
January 19, 2002
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By BENJAMIN SMITH
"It's my dream to have a professional basketball team in Brooklyn, and the Nets would be tremendously welcome," Borough President Marty Markowitz told Smartertimes.com yesterday.
The Brooklyn Nets could be a perfect fit: the team has been unable to draw fans to the Meadowlands Sports Complex despite its recent success on the court, and the team is shopping for a new stadium. Brooklyn boasts a population of 2.3 million basketball-deprived residents, more people than live in any New Jersey city. But with New York facing a budget deficit of more than $3 billion and Mayor Michael Bloomberg tangled in debates over financial support for proposed new Yankees, Mets, and Jets stadiums, the timing of Mr. Markowitz's proposal is seen by some -- particularly by some in New Jersey -- as inauspicious.
"The siting and financing of these buildings is incredibly time-consuming and difficult" a spokesman for the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority, which owns the Nets' current arena in East Rutherford, NJ, said. "I do not think it's going to happen," the spokesman, John Samerjan, said of Brooklyn's hopes.
The Nets would have to pay a $7.5 million fine if they move outside New Jersey, Mr. Samerjan said. The team's lease expires in 2007, but it can move within the state without penalty.
The company that owns the Nets, Yankeenets, has announced plans for a new stadium in Newark with a price tag of more than $300 million. But the New Jersey State Assembly balked earlier this month at a bill authorizing state support for the arena, and its future now depends on the newly elected assembly and new governor James McGreevey. A threat by the Nets to move to Brooklyn might increase the team's negotiating leverage with New Jersey politicians.
A spokesman for the Nets, Gary Sussman, would not comment on the Brooklyn offer. But a person familiar with the team's plans who insisted on anonymity said that he hadn't heard about Mr. Markowitz's proposal, and that negotiations with the New Jersey state government were going forward.
City Council member Domenic Recchia, whose district includes Coney Island, told Smartertimes.com that he has been sounding out developers about building an indoor arena next to the Brooklyn neighborhood's new Keyspan Stadium, which houses the Brooklyn Cyclones, a Mets minor league baseball affiliate. "Interest from developers has been greater than I had anticipated," Mr. Rechhia said.
Mr. Markowitz declined to go into detail about his "indirect" contacts with the Nets, but acknowledged that any move would depend on a new stadium. He said he will push to build the Coney Island arena. The Cyclones drew 289,381 fans to Keyspan stadium last summer, more than any other class "A" baseball team.
The Nets haven't been so lucky. They drew an average of 13,575 fans in their 41 home games last year, fewer than all but three of the other 28 National Basketball Association teams, according to the league. The Nets average attendance has dropped further this year, despite the fact that they lead the NBA's Atlantic Division.
The birth of the Brooklyn Nets wouldn't be without precedent. The team began as the American Basketball Association's New York Nets, and they left the Nassau Coliseum in Long Island for New Jersey when the ABA and NBA merged in 1976.
And Brooklyn has a rich history of professional basketball, if a rather thin one in recent years. Four Brooklyn teams competed in the Metropolitan Basketball League in the 1920s, including the Brooklyn Visitations and the "Greenspoint Knights of Saint Anthony," the Web site of the Association for Professional Basketball Research reports.
Today, the United States Basketball League's Brooklyn Kings call the borough home, playing in a gym on the Brooklyn campus of Long Island University.
But it's the National Basketball Association that Mr. Markowitz wants to bring to Brooklyn.
"Could you imagine the Manhattan Knicks versus the Brooklyn whatever? Oh my god. Happy days would be here," the borough president said.
City Sting Operation Targets Black Cars To Boost Yellow Cabs
Since early December, "Operation Street Hail" has issued more than 1,200 summonses to licensed livery cab drivers for picking up passengers who hail them on the street. The operation has also led to the seizure of more than 80 vehicles from drivers who are not licensed to operate cabs at all.
Taxi and Limousine Commission press officer Allan Fromberg called the operation a "win-win" situation, giving a boost to taxi drivers who have seen fewer customers since Sept. 11, and protecting passengers' safety by routing them to highly regulated yellow taxi fleets. Others say the crackdown is keeping transportation from willing customers in under-served areas. The operation represents a change of tone in the sometimes contentious relationship between yellow cab drivers and the board that regulates them. In 1998, drivers of medallion-bearing taxis staged a one-day strike to protest new rules and stricter penalties, and Mayor Giuliani responded with an executive order allowing car services and limousines to pick up passengers on the street. A New York judge later struck down the order.
The chairman of the taxi and limousine commission, Matthew Daus, has stepped up outreach to the taxi industry, Mr. Fromberg said. "There's a unity between the Taxi and Limousine Commission and the industry that's never existed before," said Mr. Fromberg. "We're out there to help the industry."
But critics argue that riders in neighborhoods not served by yellow cabs are the real losers in "Operation Street Hail," in which commission employees, in plainclothes, try to get black cars to stop and pick them up in response to street hails. Mr. Fromberg said it was the first use of sting tactics against livery cabs in New York.
The number of taxi medallions stayed constant at 11,787 between the 1940s and 1992, even as the total number of for-hire vehicles in the city more than tripled. (The city issued 400 new medallions between 1992 and 1997.) A 1983 study estimated there were more illegal gypsy cabs operating in New York than licensed yellow cabs.
"Yellow cabs don't go into the inner cities, and even if they could, there aren't enough," said Fernando Mateo, president of the New York State Federation of Taxi Drivers, composed primarily of livery drivers. Some federation members organized a rally Thursday to oppose the street hail crackdown. Mr. Mateo said he'd like the law changed so livery cabs can legally make such stops in Harlem and outside Manhattan. He pushed a similar proposal before the City Council last year and has met with yellow cab owners in an effort to build support for reviving the measure under the new council.
Marc Weinrich, a lawyer who represents drivers before the Taxi and Limousine Commission's administrative court, said he'd seen a big increase in the number of drivers seeking representation in illegal street hail cases over the past month as a result of the sting operation.
But Clark Neily of the Institute for Justice, a libertarian legal group in Washington, D.C., said he doubted that the operation would succeed in putting livery cabs out of the street-hail business as long as there's a market for their services.
Mr. Neily, who represents "dollar van" drivers in a lawsuit seeking the right to compete for street hails and to make stops along bus routes, argues that riders would be better served in a free-market system, with cab companies competing to offer the best service.
"The regulatory authority has to go out and do sting operations to keep willing providers from willing customers," said Mr. Neily. "This is all part and parcel of a hopeless attempt to regulate an economic market that would be much more efficient and provide a much better quality of service if it were allowed to operate freely."
Michael Higgins, a licensed cab driver for 20 years and publisher of the industry magazine Taxi Talk, said the commission has had some success in the past curtailing illegal activity such as running stop signs and poor vehicle maintenance. Mr. Fromberg said preventing illegal pick-ups by drivers who are sometimes unlicensed or uninsured has always been a commission priority, but said the latest crackdown was galvanized by drivers' economic struggles.
Business has been slower than usual since Sept. 11, according to Mr. Higgins and Richard Kay, a spokesman for the 3,000-member League of Mutual Taxi Owners.
"For the month after September 11, it was a ghost town, and this January has been extremely slow," said Mr. Higgins. "It's not scary slow, but it's hairy-eyeball slow."
Missing Fact: The New York Times this morning has an obituary of Harding Lawrence. Like a recent long article in the House and Home section, the obituary fails to mention the fact that Lawrence renounced his American citizenship. It's a small point but well worth mentioning.
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