NYU Students Will Never Graduate in WSP Again; New Design Cuts Available Seating from 19,000 to 14,000

It seems all those arguments by the New York City Parks Department that there’d be no loss of public space with the redesign of Washington Square Park, were, um, as we knew, a bit false.

The proposed reduction in public space at the Park was revealed by community activist Jonathan Greenberg and his lawsuit, which aimed to stop the city’s plans from moving forward. Court documents revealed that the reduction in public space around the fountain would be 23%. Although the information was never provided to the Community Board or City Council Members Alan Gerson or Christine Quinn by the Parks Department, they also didn’t seem to look into it too deeply. But now, we have additional proof, by, of all places, New York University!

NYU Local reported Friday that NYU will never hold their graduation in Washington Square Park again (something many – who are not NYU students – will most likely be happy about). 2008 was the first time in 32 years that the graduation was not held in WSP. The ceremony was moved to Yankee Stadium. The park’s redesign causes the Fountain Plaza to accommodate only 14,000 people; it previously could hold 19,000 or more.

Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe told me in person when I asked him in 2008, as Phase I was getting under way, “there is no reduction of public space.” If 5,000 less students can be accommodated on the Fountain Plaza and surrounding area, that’s a reduction of 26%.

This once again brings up the question: Shouldn’t we expect our City officials to provide us with accurate information and to tell the truth?

Many thought one of the major goals of the elaborate redesign plan was to level the Fountain Plaza and make it more “picture perfect” with endless lawn space and pretty flowers for NYU’s Graduation Ceremony; this signals otherwise.

New York University, which hasn’t won over many fans in the Village or much of the city with their overarching real estate domination, contributed $1 million towards the park’s reconstruction. This $1 million was part of the original budget of $16 million for Phases I, II and III of the construction. The expected cost of the plan has now doubled to at least $32 million.

Community Board 2 ultimately rescinded its approval of the park redesign plan, tho’ in a somewhat oblique manner.

Photo: J. Bary via Flickr

See also; video: The Truth About Washington Square Park

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

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

Yankee Stadium and the Replacement Parks – Time and Cost Rise(Recycled Entry)

I’ve wanted to write more about Yankee Stadium (and I will). For the moment, here’s a still-relevant recycled post from May 25th: Time and Cost Rise for Yankee Stadium Parks in the South Bronx.

Excerpt:

The Bronx lost part of John Mullaly Park (18.5 acres) and ALL of Macombs Dam Park(28.4 acres). Yes. ALL. of. this. park. (and part of another) was given away in the Bronx so that the Yankees, a private corporation, could build their new stadium there. It tells you something about the climate in our city under CEO Mayor Bloomberg that this idea was initiated – and achieved.

As the [New York Times] article notes, “The stadium is being financed by the Yankees with city subsidies, while the eight new parks for the South Bronx, which range in size from .24 acre to 8.9 acres, are being paid for by the city.” (We give away 2 parks to a private corporation and the City pays to rebuild them.) The cost is now projected to be $174 million; the original estimate was $95.5 million.

[Timothy] Williams writes: “Some residents have been critical of the trade-off. While Macombs Dam and Mullaly Parks were almost contiguous stretches of grass and trees amid the concrete topography of the South Bronx, the replacement parks are small parcels scattered around the area. The sites include sports fields atop a planned stadium parking garage and a park along the Harlem River, which is on the opposite side of the Major Deegan Expressway.”

Read the full entry here.

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: “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.