Sunday, February 05, 2006

January, Highbridge Horizon: "Plan for new stadium under review"

Plan for new stadium under review

By Joe Lamport
Managing Editor

The plan to build a new Yankee Stadium - and the destruction of beloved parkland - moved closer to reality when the city planning commission held its public hearing on the plan Jan. 11. The scene on the sidewalk outside of the hearing room - with opponents and proponents of the plan arguing heatedly - reflected the pitched battle for and against the plan.

The commission will cast its vote by Feb. 27. Although opponents of the plan expect the commission to approve it, at least one member said the commission's approval was far from certain.

"It's not a slam dunk," said Kenneth Knuckles, the vice chairman of the commission and a former deputy Bronx Borough President. "There are lots of compelling arguments on both sides. We have a lot to consider over the next couple of months."

City Council may choose to review the commission's decision and consequently set up a showdown with Mayor Michael Bloomberg, whose administration has helped design it. The 13-member commission is comprised of seven people and the chairperson appointed by the mayor, five appointed by borough presidents and one appointed by the public advocate.

The Empire State Development Corporation approved the stadium redevelopment plan Jan. 19, also giving it more momentum.

A heated clash of opponents and proponents of the stadium preceded the planning commission's hearing. As members of Save Our Parks, an advocacy group that opposes the stadium plan, and other advocates held a press conference to voice their opposition, a group of about 20 men suddenly appeared and began shouting them down.

The two groups then faced off on the sidewalk with tempers flaring.
"Save our parks!" opponents shouted to the workers. "We want jobs!" the supporters shouted back. After about an hour, police arrived and separated the groups.

The hearing itself featured presentations by 62 people. It included the stadium's major proponents - the Yankees and the Bronx Borough President - and a number of community residents, parks advocates and good government groups opposed to it. A number of groups from the South Bronx that have benefited from the Yankees' financial support stood up for the organization as did some small business owners.

"Why do we have to sacrifice the parks so the Yankees can make more money?" said Edward Harris, who grew up in the neighborhood. "You can have everything south of 161st Street. Why do you have to take our parks?"
Proponents of the plan pointed mainly to its economic impact, which they said would be positive. Opponents pointed to several points against it, from the loss of the parkland to the negative effects on health to the false promises of jobs to the loss of the current stadium, which many consider a landmark.

Parkland to be lost

If approved, the plan would allow the Yankees to build a new stadium on the southern end of John Mullaly Park and to use much of McComb Dams Park for parking garages. In June, state legislators and then City Council voted to "alienate" the parks, allowing the city to use the space for something other than recreational purposes.

Local residents had virtually no time to oppose the transfer, they said, and organized a campaign against the stadium afterward.

The stadium plan calls for the replacement of parkland that would be destroyed for the new stadium, but opponents said the replacement parkland is inferior. For one, they said, some of the new parkland is to be on top of new parking garages. Further, the new parkland would be scattered around the area, some of it far from people's homes.

"The loss of the parkland means the complete segregation of Highbridge from the other side of the Bronx," said Betty Robinson of Save Our Parks. "Don't Central Park and Mullaly Park have the same value? Mullaly Park is our Central Park and as such we are going to defend it."


Keeping the large open space of the parks would be significant in the fight against one of the South Bronx's worst health problems - asthma, experts said.

"Asthma is an epidemic in the South Bronx," said Dr. George Thurston of the New York University School of Medicine who led a five-year study of asthma in the South Bronx. "New York in general has a problem and the South Bronx has even a bigger problem, among the very worst."

The green space "is a buffer," Thurston said. "You'll be taking that away and creating traffic where there used to be a dilution area."


Proponents of the plan have a simple, one-word response when asked why they think a new stadium is a good idea: Jobs.

"This means jobs for local residents, construction contracts and ongoing business opportunities for local businesses, neighborhood beautification and a formalized structure for ensuring that these things take place," Bronx Borough President Adolfo Carrion told the commission.

But an analysis that the city only revealed after being forced to by an economic research organization paints a different picture of the economic impact. For one, many of the permanent jobs would be low-wage seasonal jobs, like selling hot dogs and T-shirts and waving people into parking spots. Further, the project would not generate tax revenues enough to cover the costs to tax payers.

"It's a costly and inefficient strategy for creating jobs," said Daniel Steinberg of Good Jobs New York, the organization that obtained the economic impact report prepared for the city. He pointed out that the construction jobs, which are temporary, would be created if the Yankees renovated or rebuilt the stadium or built it elsewhere instead of taking the parks.

"There's this perception that this is an important project for the city and the people of the South Bronx just have to deal with it," Steinberg said. "In reality, this projects a burden on all tax payers in New York and a nightmare for residents."


Political observers said they thought the new stadium plan would ultimately win approval from City Council. They said local politicians lacked the clout to stop the plan, particularly as Borough President Adolfo Carrion has strongly supported it.

The Yankees need a new stadium and are generally liked, the team brings lots of money into the city and the project would create significant numbers of construction jobs, said Joseph Mercurio, a political consultant and adjunct faculty at New York University.

Local residents can draw some hope from the fact that the plan to build a West Side Stadium for the New York Jets was ultimately derailed by intense local opposition, he said - but not much.

"The people on the West Side made a much bigger case," Mercurio said. He pointed out that opposition to the West Side Stadium included Council Member Christine Quinn, who is now the council speaker, and former State Assemblyman Scott Stringer, who is now Manhattan Borough President.
"The argument on the West Side was fairly compelling - it persuaded," he said. "There wasn't really a redeeming quality. The Jets weren't here and it was only the promise that they would come and make the city money. The Yankees are here and you can already calculate how much they make the city."

But most Highbridge residents are looking at it differently.

"We are not giving up," said Robinson of Save Our Parks. "The people of the community have woken up and everyone is willing to fight. This is an affront to us and they need to go back to the drawing board."


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