Is Yankee Stadium’s Rough Start Bad Karma?

Today’s Wall Street Journal takes an intense look at the new Yankee Stadium with an article entitled, “Yankee Stadium’s Ugly Start : Cheap Home Runs, Empty Seats and Lopsided Losses Have Some Asking, ‘Can a Stadium Fail?‘” It’s a well done piece which looks closely at what (overall) make a stadium succeed. However, the article does not mention the destruction of one and a half Parks in the green-space challenged South Bronx or the axing of the 400 trees in the creation of the new Yankee Stadium. Or the fact that the team could have just played elsewhere for a year and then rebuilt on the site of the former Stadium (as had been done in the past) but that would not happen in Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s New York because corporations are not supposed to encounter any difficulty or inconvenience. Just every day people.

From the article:

The new Yankee Stadium has seemed cursed from the beginning, as if Babe Ruth disapproved of the abandonment of the house he built. That it opened during a recession, with a major-league-high $72.97 average price for a nonpremium ticket (up 76% over 2008, according to Team Marketing Report) has created contempt among fans who otherwise love the team. “They don’t have a good enough team to charge those prices,” says 35-year-old fan Jeff Burrows of Brooklyn, who toured the park recently with his father. “They’ve made almost every mistake you can make,” says Roger Noll, a professor of economics emeritus at Stanford. “There’s nothing that’s been as unpopular as this.”

And then… who pops up at the end of the article? NYU President John Sexton, no stranger to destruction of old, charming and neighborhood-oriented New York.

Some Yankee fans are optimistic. John Sexton, president of New York University and a longtime season-ticket holder, says the park isn’t perfect — he wishes Monument Park weren’t so hidden from view. Still, he says, “In five years we may be looking back on this and saying we’re glad we did it.”

Previous WSP Blog Entry: Play Ball: How New York City Destroyed Two Bronx Parks

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Mayor Bloomberg’s Washington Square Park Redesign: Over budget. Delayed. And NYU can’t even hold their graduation ceremony there…

Not this year...

Not this year...

Well, that blogging break lasted one day but I have a bit of information for you … NYU has announced that this year’s graduation ceremony will again take place at Yankee Stadium (the new one for which close to 400 trees and 1.5 parks in the Bronx were sacrificed*) because Washington Square Park, their favored graduation spot, will still be under construction by the May 13th date.

New York University President John Sexton announced yesterday that Hillary Rodham Clinton will be the speaker at the commencement and she will also receive an honorary degree. According to Mazza First Hand Source Blog, they are now saying (who exactly “they” are is unknown) the park will open “late spring 2009” (note: at all the meetings I’ve attended, the Parks Department has declined to give a time frame) and, as MFHS writes, “which we really know, judging from construction-speak, is probably Summer 2009 at the earliest.”

NYU has used Washington Square Park as the site of its graduation ceremony for 32 of its 177 years of commencement ceremonies. (It’s been tradition that the students jump into the famed fountain at the end of the ceremony.)

In 2008, the first in which NYU used Yankee Stadium as its graduation site, it was believed that location was a one time thing and that Washington Square Park’s reconstruction would be finished in time for the 2009 ceremony. But as the project is delayed, it is also over budget.

The original budget for the dramatic redesign of Washington Square Park, once $16 million, is now close to $30 million, if not more. Money that could be spent on other vital NYC services (elder centers? libraries? police officers? fire houses? day care centers? park maintenance perhaps?). But Mayor Bloomberg’s bluster about his unique ability to save New York City in a budget crisis continues. (What creative, innovative thing is he doing that any other Mayor wouldn’t? Have we heard any brilliant financial advice from him? No.)

NYU gave a rather paltry $1 million towards the park’s redesign. They consider Washington Square Park part of their campus and they own basically all the real estate surrounding the park. As we know, in NYC, real estate talks. NYU is definitely playing a behind-the-scenes role in Washington Square Park’s radical overhaul. So, it is a shame that the park is not ready for this year’s graduation so that this very important ceremony could take place in their Park, don’t ya think?

As I wrote last year, I think NYU and Yankee Stadium are perfect together.
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* Related WSP Blog Post: Play Ball: How New York City destroyed Two Bronx parks

On Yankee Stadium: Replacement Parkland now 67% over initial projected cost … and about those tax-free bonds

The Yankee Stadium “replacement” Parkland costs, originally projected at $ 116.1 million, have now risen 67% to close to $195 million, according to a report released yesterday by the Independent Budget Office as reported in Crain’s New York Business.

The only reason we know this is due to the fact that the Independent Budget Office is “a city agency that operates independent of the mayor.” I didn’t know any existed — agencies operating outside of the mayor’s reign — so this is mildly reassuring!

The article attributes “design revisions, project additions, unanticipated cleanup of hazardous materials and construction inflation” as the reason for the skyrocketing costs given by the NYC Parks Department.

Community members dispute this claim:

“Joyce Hogi, a member of Community Board 4’s parks committee and a longtime area resident, said community members told the city it was underestimating the amount of environmental remediation that needed to be done, but that its warnings went nowhere. “We knew the costs of the parks were going to escalate,” she said. “During our protests, we said ‘there are tanks under the soil, there’s remediation that needs to be done.’”

And, “while the Yankees are financing the stadium — with the help of city and state subsidies — the parks are being paid for by the city.”

So, the city gave the Yankees 1 and 1/2 parks(all of Macomb Dams Park and part of John Mullaly Park), 22 acres of parkland, in the green-space challenged South Bronx, to then be re-distributed into “eight smaller parks” (some on top of parking garages!). (Doesn’t exactly sound like a good deal, does it?)

And then there are those tax-free bonds. Sports writer Mike Lupica gave a great overview in the New York Daily News on January 17th which is worth reading:

The Yankees had a perfect right to make the best possible deal for themselves, even though somebody like the IRS is eventually going to ask why the assessed value of the land the Yankees needed to build the new Yankee Stadium went from $26 million to $204 million one day because that’s what the bond underwriters wanted.

Nobody ever doubted that the Yankees, and the Mets, would get the additional tax-free bonds the city’s Industrial Development Agency gave them Friday. The IDA does what it is told by Bloomberg the way our valiant City Council does on term limits.

You are not supposed to say no to this mayor. You are not supposed to say no to the Yankees when they want an additional $370 million in these tax-free bonds (on top of the nearly $1 billion in tax-free bonds they’ve received originally). All you are supposed to do is this: When told this is a sweetheart deal for the city instead of for the Yankees, you are supposed to nod your head and act grateful.

These aren’t stadium deals between Bloomberg and the baseball teams. They are mergers. And Bloomberg needs them as much as the Yankees and Mets do. Because without them, New Yorkers would start asking this mayor who promised big, huge growth projects where those projects are.

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Today’s New York Times has additional information in its article, “Report Cites Unexplained Costs of New Parks in the Bronx” (apparently $16 million is unaccounted for), to which the Parks Department responds: basically, that’s “old news.” Story here.

Mayor Mike In the News … You win some, you lose some?

Mayor Mike, amidst the people

Mayor Mike, amidst the people

Having attended (and reported back on) the federal court hearing around term limits last week in downtown Brooklyn, I am not surprised that Judge Charles P. Sifton ruled in the City’s favor saying the term limit overhaul can stay. I would have been awfully surprised if Judge Sifton, who seemed really tired and troubled (confused even) as to how to make the decision, ruled otherwise. I’m sure it was just easier to rule for the city, and maybe (a big maybe) their legal arguments were stronger.

We all know; however, it was the 29 Members of the NY City Council who voted for overturning voted-in term limits, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn and, at the end of the day, our illustrious (well, at least he thinks so) CEO Mayor Mike Bloomberg who are responsible. You can read the Times’ story “Judge Rejects Suit over Term Limits.”

But there is still another piece to the term limits puzzle.

As the Daily News reported on October 13th, 2008:

The brouhaha may be about whether the fate of term limits is decided by special election or the 51-member City Council, but in the end it’s up to the feds.

New York is among the localities covered by the historic 1965 Voting Rights Act, which requires federal approval for changes in voting rules to protect minority-group rights.

Yet, there was a short subsequent article on January 6th, 2009 in the Daily News reporting some suspicion over the fact that Mayor Bloomberg had not filed the paperwork to initiate the federal approval process. It stated:

More than two months after signing the controversial law allowing him to seek a third term, Mayor Bloomberg still hasn’t sought the required federal approval for it.

It’s odd and suspicious. It smacks of having some other agenda,” said election law expert Richard Emery, a foe of the term extension, who backs Bloomberg’s third run anyway.

What could that agenda BE…?

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But the Mayor didn’t get off scot free today… see this Times’ story “Yankee Stadium Burdens Mayor’s Campaign.” The article begins: “With a vote set on Friday on whether to extend $372 million in additional tax-free financing for the new Yankee Stadium, challengers to Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg are trying to halt the subsidies. State lawmakers have subpoenaed team and city officials to an emergency hearing on Wednesday, and what once looked like a gleaming example of the mayor’s financial skill is suddenly looking like one of his biggest vulnerabilities.”

Privatized Stadium in Public Parks – On Yankee Stadium, the Bloomberg Administration and that Luxury Suite

the sign for the former macombs dam parkThe Bloomberg Administration agreed to obliterate one and a half parks (and 400 trees) in the green space-challenged South Bronx with the City’s highest asthma rates in order to provide the Yankee Corporation the land for a new stadium. More and more details about this “deal” keep being revealed and it’s just as murky as you might expect.

The Bloomberg Administration aggressively pursued a bigger luxury suite and gave the Yankees 250 parking spots and three advertising billboards in their push to wrangle this. This is on top of already having given them city (park) land to put their stadium on and allocated taxpayer funds for the questionable rebuilding of the two parks.

The New York Times reported on this Sunday 11/30 in “City Pressed Hard for Use of Yankee Luxury Suite:”

The city’s push for the perks has been known, at least broadly speaking, since Mr. [Richard] Brodsky [New York State Assemblyman] began raising questions earlier this year about the stadium deals for the Yankees and Mets, from whom the city also secured a luxury box. But the e-mail messages offer a revealing snapshot of the behavior and marching orders of the people involved in the deal for the construction of the billion-dollar Yankee Stadium.

Also:

“There’s this ‘Alice in Wonderland’ quality to the question of, what is the public interest here and who’s protecting it?” said Mr. Brodsky, who conducted a hearing on the issue of public financing of sports stadiums this summer. “We can’t find the money for the M.T.A., or schools, or hospitals, and these folks are used to the perks and good things of life, and expect them.”

It’s an interesting read and is quite revealing about the methods of the Bloomberg Administration. At the same time, the city gave so much to the Yankees. It would have been great if they had fought so hard to keep our two Bronx city parks in place. It’s just another example of how arrogant and out of touch Mayor Michael Bloomberg is, always ready to put the wishes of private developers and corporations over people and their communities.

Previous entry: Play Ball: How New York City Destroyed Two Bronx Parks

Today’s Daily News on Yankee Stadium “Replacement Parks”: South Bronx Residents cry foul as parks get Yanked

The tragedy that is the destruction of two Bronx parks for Yankee Stadium, a corporate entity, continues to make news.

It’s almost inconceivable to fathom that more than 22 acres of parkland in the Bronx and over 400 trees were destroyed for the Yankees to build a new stadium. When their last stadium was built, the team played at Shea Stadium for two seasons. But such is the political climate we live in today in Mayor Bloomberg’s New York that such a thing was not even considered and corporations were given favor over people as well as nature, our parks and public spaces.

Sports writer Ian Begley writes in today’s New York Daily News article, “South Bronx residents cry foul as parks get Yanked for Stadium construction:”

[Community residents] remember when they could just walk over to Macombs Dam Park and play for as long as they pleased. They were never interrupted in the large expanse across the street from Yankee Stadium, which included tennis courts, soccer and baseball fields and a running track.

But the park closed two years ago when workers broke ground for the new Yankee Stadium. …

“Before, it was good because (Macombs Dam Park) was a big field and there was room for everyone,” Villadares said. “This [replacement area] isn’t as big and it’s usually crowded. It’s not the same as the other park.”

South Bronx residents lost 22 acres of parkland, in Macombs Dam and Mullaly Parks, when new Yankee Stadium construction began two years ago.

In accordance with state and federal law, the Parks Department plans to replace the acreage with new recreational sites in the area. But soaring costs, construction delays and what some have described as questionable planning have caused residents to cry foul, castigating city officials and the Yankees for taking away some of the most popular parkland in the community.

See the full article here.

NY Daily News: “Kiss my grass, Mayor Bloomberg” by Michael O’Keefe

There has been much to report on Parks in the news lately … I’m still catching up! Michael O’Keefe, the New York Daily News Sports writer, wrote this past Sunday about the upcoming Jon Bon Jovi concert on Central Park‘s Great Lawn:

Fans of Sayreville’s own Bon Jovi have apparently learned how to defy the laws of gravity! Either that, or Mayor Bloomberg and his administration are once again rolling over for sports teams and leagues.

Back in August 2004, as it was becoming crystal clear that the Bush administration had cynically exploited the Sept. 11 attack to drag America into a pointless war in Iraq, thousands of people from around the world came to New York to voice their outrage during the Republican National Convention.

Anti-war groups hoped to channel that anger with a massive demonstration in Central Park, but the city refused to issue the necessary protest permits. Peace, love and understanding, the city argued in federal court, is not healthy for Great Lawn grass and other living things.

But when Major League Baseball and its corporate sponsors decided to host a Bon Jovi concert this coming Saturday, in conjunction with the July 15 All-Star Game at Yankee Stadium, nobody in the Bloomberg administration apparently raised a Sambora about the grass. Is Bloomberg livin’ on a prayer, hoping Bon Jovi fans will hover over the Great Lawn?

The Bloomberg administration will argue that this is all about numbers – the 60,000 rock fans expected for the Bon Jovi concert won’t have the same impact on the grass as the 250,000 protesters United for Peace and Justice hoped to rally in Central Park in 2004.

But given how Bloomberg has consistently put the greed of the sports teams – especially the Yankees, Mets and Nets – over the needs of ordinary citizens, you don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.

As Daily News columnist Juan Gonzalez pointed out last week, City Hall is backing a Yankee request for $366 million in additional tax-exempt financing to complete the new Yankee Stadium – a very expensive handout for a private business that employs a tiny number of New York residents.

Lawyers for Willets Point businesses, meanwhile, say the city has refused to provide even basic services to the neighborhood for years. So is it coincidence or conspiracy that the city has decided to use eminent domain to throw out the junkyards and body shops just as the Mets are putting the finishing touches on their nearby new stadium?

Bloomberg, meanwhile, has been a shameless cheerleader for Bruce Ratner’s Atlantic Yards project, which has become an international synonym for a shameless corporate land grab.

A free Bon Jovi concert might be a nice midsummer gift. But stop rolling over every time a sports official asks for a favor, Mr. Mayor. Some New Yorkers would rather protest a bloody and immoral war than chill out with bland suburban rock.

I’m impressed by sports writers. They inject passion and reflect on history in a way that, for the most part, political writers and media covering City Hall don’t. If politics was covered the way sports is, perhaps more people would know what was going on and the world … our City … would be a different place.

NY Daily News: “Fort Yankee Stadium” Or … Mayor Bloomberg further shows his true colors

From yesterday’s New York Daily News:

Fort Yankee Stadium

Mayor Bloomberg apparently has adopted a bunker mentality on the new Yankee Stadium project, as serious questions arise over “equal” replacement of parkland, huge cost overruns, questionable financing and other issues.

Parks Commish Adrian Benepe is now under orders to pass any media inquiries about the project directly to Mayuh Mike’s press office.

Maybe City Hall needs to build a bunker under the new stadium.

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Want to know more? Click here.

Yankee Stadium Parks update: Parks Dept is “inexperienced” in building parks on top of parking garages.

The New York City Council Parks & Recreation Committee called the NYC Parks Department forward to ask a few questions yesterday about the delays (2 years) and skyrocketing costs (from budgeted $99.5 million to now $174 million) of replacing parkland in the South Bronx taken away to create the new Yankee Stadium. Remember how NYC government took away 40 acres from 2 parks (destroyed one entirely) in their quest to give the Yankees Corporation whatever they wanted for their expensive, high tech building? The Parks Committee decided it was time to offer some oversight.

Timothy Williams reports in today’s New York Times: “On Tuesday, council members asked Liam Kavanagh, the parks department’s first deputy commissioner, a series of pointed questions, including whether the agency had been dishonest about its original cost estimates.”

Kavanagh was sent forth by Parks Commissioner Benepe to explain the situation. He asserted that “the department’s inexperience with such complex projects was partly to blame.”

City Council Parks & Recreation Committee Chair Helen Foster asked about the largely increased costs, ““Is there a possibility the numbers were watered down or made less to make the package more appealing?” (Was it ever appealing?)

Mr. Kavanagh responded, “I can assure you there was no attempt to underplay the cost of the replacement program.” (Would they admit that?)

Finally, Parks representative Kavanagh explained the real problem was the “unusual locations” chosen for the replacement parks, “including one atop a stadium parking garage.” “It is not something we are fully familiar with,” he commented.

Imagine that they decide to take over some of the parkland at Central Park for, say, a new DisneyLand and, by way of explanation, the Parks Department says, “You know that public space you ran on, where you rode your bike, and walked your dog? We’re going to replace it and it’ll be even better. Trust us. We’ll be cutting down 400 mature trees but … we’ll plant more! And, yes, your new space will be on top of a parking garage blocks away and you’ll have to cross the West Side Highway to get there. But, don’t worry, you’ll adapt.”

That is the equivalent of what happened to the people in the South Bronx who watched their parks destroyed all in the interest of privatization for Mayors Bloomberg & Guiliani‘s “vision” for our city.

In the News: “Green Thievery in the South Bronx”

the sign for the former macombs dam parkIt continues to astound me that New York City and the Yankees Corporation got away with destroying TWO parks in the South Bronx to construct a new Yankee stadium.

Imagine Yankees management years ago looking across the way from the current stadium at those pesky parks, Macombs Dam and John Mullaly. These two parks comprised 20 acres, including 377 trees, grass, tracks, a pool and fields – all in the way of a new stadium.

Envision that call being placed to someone in the Giuliani administration(when the idea was first floated). Yankees official states: “Hey the Yankees corporation needs a new stadium and we’ve found a perfect location which will enable us to play in the old stadium and then move into the new one seamlessly.” The city official asks where? Yankee management says, “Those two parks across the street.”

It’s hard to imagine someone not just laughing at this notion. Alas, they did not and this proposal was pushed through under the tenuous idea that the Bronx would get more parkland. And then there was the destruction of the trees. We know how important trees are in a city, particularly mature trees. They help clean the air. Trees provide homes for wildlife and are an important part of the ecosystem.

Isn’t our Parks Department supposed to be stewards for the existing trees and parkland?

Do Parks Commissioners take any kind of oath or is Commissioner Benepe really just a privatizing businessman under Mayor Bloomberg?

The New York Times reported on the status of that parkland in a weekend Editorial, “Green Thievery in the South Bronx:”

“Many promises were made two years ago when the New York Yankees grabbed prime parkland in the South Bronx to build a new stadium. …

The Yankees took more than 20 acres of contiguous parkland – from Macombs Dam and John Mullaly Parks – to build a stadium adjacent to the original one. Hundreds of mature trees were felled, and even though thousands of new ones have been planted, the area feels like the construction zone it is. … the city, which is paying for the new green spaces, is moving too slowly.”

That the Yankees “took” the Parks isn’t quite accurate. They were given this space. The city is paying for the replacement parkland, NOT the team. They are also getting “hundreds of millions of dollars in taxpayer subsidies” and are asking for more.

The article relays that while the Yankees are ready to open their new stadium on schedule next year; the parks are delayed and will open two years later than promised. The New York Times, always ready to laud Mayor Bloomberg, leaves his name out of this critical piece, as well as any mention of Parks Commissioner Benepe, referring to those responsible for the delay under the vague title “the city.”

As the editorial continues, “The Yankees are the richest team in baseball. Their neighbors are among the poorest in the nation. The city should move faster to provide substitutes for the healthy green spaces that have been taken away.”

You think? They should have never have “been taken away” to begin with.

Previous entries on this here.