Sunday, March 26, 2006

"Ballpark or parkland? Vote due on new Yankee Stadium" Sports Illustrated.CNN, 3/25/6

Ballpark or parkland? Vote due on new Yankee Stadium

Posted: Friday Mar 24, 2006 2:13 PM

NEW YORK (AP) - Community activists and critics of a proposed $800 million ballpark for the New York Yankees are discovering what teams across the American League already knew: It's tough to stop the Bronx Bombers. Especially when they're at home.

Since the new stadium plan was unveiled last June, it's moved across the New York landscape with more velocity than a Randy Johnson fastball. Land quickly was set aside, the Bronx borough president approved and the City Planning Commission OK'd replacing the House That Ruth Built with a new 53,000-seat stadium.

"This is like something Robert Moses did years ago,'' said stadium opponent Lukas Herbert of the Bronx, referring to the unstoppable urban planner of the city's past. "These guys are going around saying, `This is what we're going to do. If you don't like it, you can get three minutes at a public hearing and go away.'''

If the committee on Planning, Dispositions and Concessions approves the plan, it moves on to a full council vote set for April 5. The Yankees are hopeful of starting construction during the upcoming baseball season; the city and state are pitching in $400 million for infrastructure improvement and assistance with bonds.

City officials, including Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Bronx Borough President Adolfo Carrion, argue the stadium is more boon than boondoggle. The new Yankee Stadium should provide "thousands of new jobs and play a major role in the revitalization of the South Bronx,'' Janel Patterson, spokeswoman for the city's Economic Development Corp., said in a statement last month.

The most contentious issue in the debate involves the loss of parkland. In a neighborhood once held up as the epitome of urban disintegration, Macombs Dam Park and Mullaly Park long provided much-needed green space - but those areas will disappear beneath the new construction.

Replacement parks will be created, but critics complain the new space is too scattered and inconvenient.

"There are a million issues here,'' griped David Gratt, a member of the anti-ballpark Friends of Yankee Stadium. "Twenty-two acres of public parkland (used) without consulting the public. Despite what supporters of the project say, this is actually going to lose $200 million over 40 years, not make money.

"And this is an enormous enterprise being subsidized by the city to make an even larger profit.''

Local paranoia was further raised by how quickly the Yankee proposal moved from the drawing board to near-approval. In contrast, a plan for a new Brooklyn arena for the NBA's Nets remains in limbo more than two years after its proposal.

The Yankees, trying to demonstrate their community commitment, are negotiating a hefty benefits package with Bronx politicians. An early proposal had the team contributing $28 million over 40 years to an advisory panel that would then distribute the Bronx Community Trust Fund to local non-profits.

In addition, the team would pay $100,000 annually toward preservation of the Bronx parks around the new stadium and another $100,000 to Bronx youth and sports groups. The team would also provide 15,000 tickets to Yankee games each year.

"We're in the process of negotiating agreements that we think are going to be very significant,'' said Yankees president Randy Levine.

There's good reason for the Yankees to stay in the South Bronx. Last year, the team broke the 4 million mark in attendance - the seventh consecutive year it drew more than 3 million in the vintage ballpark.

Yet the Yankees and the locals long have shared an uneasy truce. It was just a dozen years ago that George Steinbrenner was denigrating the neighborhood as dangerous, and threatening to move the team to Manhattan or northern New Jersey. The huge attendance uptick made the new ballpark more attractive.

Yankee Stadium II would have fewer seats, but more luxury boxes - 60 in all, about three times the existing number. Residents in the neighborhood were upset by the notion that the team was catering to its wealthier fans rather than its Bronx constituency.

The stadium proposal left Gratt struggling with a love/hate complex toward the Yankees - loves the team, hates the new ballpark. It came to a head when it was time to renew his season tickets.

Gratt couldn't imagine a summer without his beloved bleacher seats. But he didn't want to support the team if the Yankees forged ahead with the stadium plan. His decision: Gratt will stay at home this baseball season.


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