Since the days of New York City Mayor Ed Koch, Madison Square Garden has enjoyed freedom from property taxes worth about $11 million annually, but that could change if city council members succeed in reversing that tradition.
Things have changed since Koch ran the city in the ’70s. Council member David Weprin recently told the New York Sun that it’s "very unusual" for a profitable institution like Madison Square Garden to be exempt from property taxes. Many other unusual things are taking place, too.
First of all, there’s the city’s dissatisfaction with its professional basketball team. MSG’s resident Knicks have turned a respectable, if perennially so-so, basketball team to one of the highest-paid, lowest-ranking payrolls in the National Basketball League. The Knicks hold an 8-24 record, have not won a playoff game since 2001, and the Garden has been known to be filled with chants of "Fire Isiah" – a request to get rid of Knicks coach Isiah Thomas.
"I’m not going to be so flippant as to say that the fact the Knicks have absolutely stunk up the basketball court is a reason to get rid of their tax exemption," Councilman Lewis Fidler told the New York Times. "But I think certainly the manner in which they’ve conducted their business otherwise has certainly left people feeling less than warm and fuzzy for them."
Thomas and MSG were on the losing end of an $11.5 million sexual harassment judgment after a former Knicks official accused Thomas of inappropriate behavior.
MSG recently settled out of court with an ex-cheerleader for the New York Rangers hockey team who said she was fired after warning her peers that a member of management was a sexual predator.
Then there’s the recent haranguing by the New York Daily News, which didn’t take kindly to MSG charging the city $110,000, including $4,000 for confetti, to hold the police academy’s graduation ceremonies. And in the rear view mirror is MSG’s maneuvering to keep Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the New York Jets from building a new stadium near its fiefdom.
In fact, councilman Weprin told the Sun that he waited until now to review the Garden’s tax exemption in part because he did not want it to appear as retaliation for the stadium controversy.
Meanwhile, the city wants the Garden to move to a new location but MSG owner Cablevision has indicated it does not wish to do so unless the tax exemption comes along.
MSG spokesman Barry Watkins released a statement that the arena is "an engine of economic activity providing jobs to New Yorkers" and added that MSG would discuss the issue "at the appropriate time."