Friday, May 26, 2006

"Extra innings for new Yanks park", MetroNY 5/26/6

Extra innings for new Yanks park
Team said construction would begin this spring, but federal approvals remain out of reach

by patrick arden / metro new york

MAY 26, 2006

SOUTH BRONX — In early April, Yankees president Randy Levine made a prediction on the steps of City Hall.

Flanked by construction workers celebrating City Council approval of the team’s $1.2 billion new stadium plan, Levine vowed construction would begin “this spring.”

But in the words of Yankees great Yogi Berra, “It ain’t over till it’s over.”

As the new stadium’s design has quietly worked its way through the city Art Commission, the Yankees have yet to get the final OK to build on Macombs and Mullaly parks, across the street from the House That Ruth Built.

That plan to use parkland — which met with stiff opposition in the community — still requires a go-ahead from the National Parks Service, which had paid $422,650 for improvements to an 11.2-acre portion of Macombs Dam Park in 1979. Any park receiving federal dollars under the Land and Water Conservation Fund must remain a park in perpetuity, unless it is replaced with parkland of equal value, “usefulness and location,” and “all practical alternatives” have been exhausted.

Wind-up, no pitch

Yesterday National Parks Service LWCF manager Jack Howard was still waiting on the application.

“I don’t know exactly when that’s going to happen,” he said. “We have to make sure everything’s in compliance with our requirements. I’m assuming the state is working with the city to ensure that the information is complete.”

So far, the state has asked the city to get new property appraisals twice. A third set of appraisals is in progress, said Ashe Reardon, a spokesperson for the Parks Dept, to insure these comply with federal appraisal standards.

The city wants to replace the Macombs LCWF parcel with 8.9 acres under the current stadium and 1.15 acres of existing pedestrian walkways. But since that replacement property only equals 10.05 acres -- not the 11.2 acres being taken away -- the city is also including a 5.1-acre lot near the Harlem River. This property is next to the Major Deegan Expressway and not connected to the other parkland.

Slated for a private tennis concession, the riverside parcel is also on a floodplain, according to the second appraisal. Stanley Mayer, whose family-owned business Siegmund Strauss was in the neighboring Bronx Terminal Market, recalled flood waters once reached “three or four inches below” his loading dock. “We were sandbagging with rice bags to keep the water out of our store.”

The state held a public-comment period on the parkland-conversion plan until April 3. Lukas Herbert, an urban planner and member of Community Board 4, wants the state to reopen the comment period because the appraisals weren’t public and the city didn’t provide original LWCF documentation, as required.

Triple play

“The public has to have all the facts, or the comment period is meaningless,” Herbert said. “It’s not an equitable swap, because the replacement parkland is not of equivalent usefulness or location. They’re breaking up the replacement in three parcels — one will have baseball fields in five years, one is going to be a concrete walkway, and one will be tennis courts on the waterfront, where you’ll have to pay a substantial fee. There also was a power generator there — we could be getting contaminated land.”

Yankees spokesperson Alice McGillion said yesterday the team has no groundbreaking date.

“The Yankees tried to intimidate the community by saying they’d break ground any day,” said Geoffrey Croft, president of NYC Park Advocates. “They knew this project wasn’t going anywhere anytime soon.”

Financing on deck

• The Yankees and the Mets await an IRS ruling on whether they can use $1.4 billion in tax-exempt bonds to finance their new stadiums. “The IRS is still reviewing our request,” said Jorge Montalvo, a spokesman for the city’s Industrial Development Agency, who noted the IRS had also requested more info. A determination is expected in “probably a few months.”


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