Monday, June 05, 2006

Updated Wikipedia entry for Yankee Stadium

In the summer of 2005, the New York Yankees, along with New York city and state officials, unveiled plans to tear down the historic Yankee Stadium and build a $1.3 billion stadium on 22 acres of public parkland north of their East 161st Street home. The project, which would require about $450 million in public subsidies, has been given a Bronx cheer by community groups, urban planners, and parks, health, and public transportation advocates. In the fall, Bronx Community Board 4 voted two to one against the project (the board’s decisions are nonbinding), which would be the most expensive stadium ever built in the United States.

The transfer of Macombs Dam and John Mullaly parks was passed by the New York State Legislature without a public hearing in the days after the stadium’s design was unveiled. Opponents say this violates state and federal laws designed to protect parkland. City officials, including Bronx Borough President Adolfo Carrion, say the parkland will be replaced with better parks. Community groups say the new parklike features would be small and scattered, compared with the 22 acres of central, continuous open space that is now available. Some parklike features would be built on the Harlem River waterfront, which is one mile away from the current parkland and requires walking under an interstate highway and over railroad tracks to access, and is in a flood zone. Ten acres of the replacement parklike features would be built on artificial surface atop new parking garages; these parklike features would be closed to accommodate fans’ cars on game days, which make up half of the summer. Other parklike features would be built on the 9-acre site of Yankee Stadium, which would be completely torn down and replaced by two softball and one baseball fields. The city has agreed to pay $103 million for the new parklike features and $27 million to demolish Yankee Stadium, and has also agreed not to charge the Yankees rent and taxes. The New York City Department of Parks and Recreation would retain ownership of the new stadium’s land.

The New York State Legislature agreed to $70 million in subsidies for a $320 million parking garage project. It is not clear who would fund the remaining $250 million and who would reap the parking revenue. This would give the Yankees approximately 3,000 more parking spaces; their new stadium would have about 7,000 fewer seats. For several decades, transportation and community groups have urged the state’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority to build a station for the Metro-North commuter railroad’s Hudson Line, which runs adjacent to Yankee Stadium. Public transportation had been excluded from this project. On the eve of the New York City Council's vote on the project, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Governor George Pataki said they supported building a Metro-North station. (Pataki controls a majority of votes on the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, a quasi-public state agency.) The City Council approved the project with two dissenting votes. It has not been made clear how the perennially underfunded MTA would fund a Metro-North station. Transportation advocates say funds may be diverted from any number of other transportation projects, including a new Penn Station, the Second Avenue subway line, a train linking John F. Kennedy International Airport to lower Manhattan, and giving Long Island Rail Road access to Grand Central Terminal. Many others say the Metro-North station, which was part of the city- and state-funded $120 million Yankee Stadium renovation plan in 1974-75, may never actually get built.

In addition to the environmental hazard from adding exhaust fumes to the neighborhood, health advocates are concerned about the effect of removing 377 mature trees from this Bronx neighborhood, which has one of the highest childhood asthma rates in the city. The city says all of trees will be replaced, but not necessarily in the affected neighborhood. Many new parklike features will be built on artificial surface, however. It is unclear how long it will take for trees to grow in pavement. The mortality rate for newly planted trees is 85%.

The stadium itself would be paid for with $866 million in tax-free bonds from the city, state, and federal governments; the Yankees would repay those bonds. Major League Baseball’s 2002 collective bargaining agreement allows teams to deduct up to 40 percent of new-stadium costs from their revenue-sharing responsibilities. For the Yankees, who consistently boast the league's highest payroll and revenue, this means more than $300 million of their stadium’s costs may be borne by the 16 lowest-revenue teams in baseball.

City officials, including Bloomberg, say the city at large will benefit from the new stadium and parklike features. Yankees President Randy Levine, who previously worked in the mayoral administration of Bloomberg predecessor Rudolph Giuliani, says a new stadium will create thousands of jobs for the community. Good Jobs New York, an advocacy group, has pointed out that the vast majority of these jobs will be either temporary or seasonal and many of these will be part time. The city’s Economic Development Corporation, whose members are appointed by the mayor, says the stadium would increase the city’s tax base by $96 million over a 30-year period, after what many estimate will be a cost to the city of around $450 million.

Stadium advocates say there is no alternative to this new stadium, and say that a new stadium ensures the Yankees will remain in New York City for the foreseeable future. Twenty years earlier, principal owner George Steinbrenner considered moving the Yankees to the Meadowlands Sports Complex in East Rutherford, New Jersey. In recent years, however, New Jersey officials have said they are not willing to spend taxpayer dollars on a baseball stadium. Since then, large pieces of undeveloped public land have been ceded to the Xanadu entertainment complex, and to the New York Giants and Jets for a shared football stadium. With no land and no public money, the Yankees long ago ceased considering the Meadowlands for a stadium. Eight years earlier, the Giuliani administration attempted to build a stadium for the Yankees on the West Side railyards in Manhattan. The proposal never got off the ground. After this failure, George Steinbrenner announced that he has no intention to leave the Bronx. Two years ago, the Bloomberg administration failed to build a football stadium for the New York Jets on that site, all but removing that tract from consideration for any sports stadium.

Community groups want the Yankees to use several available parcels of land south of East 161st Street to build their stadium or to renovate Yankee Stadium. A plan being discussed in 1998 estimated the cost of stadium renovation at $200 million. Renovating the existing parkland would cost about $25 million.

The Yankees still must climb two procedural hurdles. One is approval from the Internal Revenue Service. The Yankees will repay the city's tax-free bonds with payments in lieu of "taxes," even though the Yankees do not pay taxes on Yankee Stadium and would not on their new stadium. The tax code revisions of 1986 stipulate that tax-free bonds be used for public projects only. The Yankees are a private, for-profit business. The project also requires approval from the National Parks Service, which has not received the state's application to abandon the public parkland. The National Parks Service must approve the alienation of parkland because the parks received federal funds under the Land and Water Conservation Act in 1979. Officials have said this approval could take up to a year. The Yankees had planned on breaking ground by May 1, 2006, with Opening Day 2009 to open their new stadium.


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