Tuesday, October 31, 2006

"Keep public parks public" NY Daily News 10/27/06

Keep public parks public

by Juan Gonzalez in NY Daily News, Friday, October 27, 2006

She may have attended one of Manhattan's elite private schools, but Bronx City Councilwoman Helen Foster wants to know why City Hall is seeking to further privatize public parks with special deals for her alma mater and other prep schools.

Foster, who attended Nightingale-Bramford School on the upper East Side and who now presides over the Council's Parks and Recreation Committee, announced yesterday a special Nov. 3 public hearing to review a proposed Parks Department franchise agreement that has many public school parents furious.

The agreement between the Parks Department and 20 elite Manhattan schools, reached quietly over the past year, would give those schools privileged access to virtually all athletic fields at Randalls Island Park every weekday afternoon for the next 30 years.

"It's another example of this administration creating a two-tier system of parks," Foster said yesterday.

Under the proposed deal, the city would supply money from its capital budget to renovate and increase the number of ballfields on Randalls Island from 30 to 68. The private schools would get near-exclusive use of 80% of those fields and, in turn, pay $2.85 million annually - an average of $142,000 each school per year - to finance the park renovations and part of the maintenance.

The 20 schools, in effect, would be leasing for peanuts the city's biggest complex of public ballfields in a no-bid contract.

A Daily News review of state financial records filed by 18 of the prep schools shows they have combined assets of nearly $900million.

Most of the schools reported substantial annual surpluses in 2004 despite shelling out eye-popping salaries to top administrators.

Take the Brearley School: This K-12 old-money school for girls on E. 83rd St. reported an operating surplus in 2004 of $4.5 million on revenues of $24.3million. More importantly, it claimed assets in cash, stocks and land of slightly more than $100million.

Brearley, however, is a second fiddle to the super-posh Spence School on E.91st St., where actress Gwyneth Paltrow, and the daughters of Mayor Bloomberg, Ronald Perelman, Walter Cronkite and Sigourney Weaver all attended.

Spence was one of the few in the group to report an operating deficit for 2004 - $1.5million. But that's nothing to worry about. During the same year the school's investment portfolio earned a whopping $4.3million, leaving Spence with assets of $130 million.

Both schools leave wealthy new-money powerhouses like the Dalton School in the dust. Dalton, at 89th St. and Park Ave., reported a surplus of $4.9 million in 2004 on revenues of $45 million. The school's assets at year's end were $60.8 million.

Meanwhile, the salaries these schools pay are the envy of educators across the country.

Ellen Stein, Dalton's head of school, received $444,000 in salary, benefits and expenses in 2004, according to the school's report to the state. Henry Moses, the headmaster at Trinity School, on the upper West Side, received $487,000.

At least half the headmasters at the 20 prep schools made more money than the $250,000 given to city Schools Chancellor Joel Klein.

No one is begrudging our city's wealthy residents the right to spend $25,000 a year of their own money to give their children the best education possible.

But when public school children in nearby East Harlem and the South Bronx can't find enough park space after school for recreation and team sports, why should the children of privilege be accorded special treatment from our government?

After all, the public is already providing these private schools enormous breaks through exempting them from real estate taxes.

According to an April report from the nonprofit City Project, three of the 20 schools in this proposed Randalls Island deal - Trinity, the Chapin School and the United Nations International School - were among the biggest recipients of private school tax breaks from the city in 2005.

Between them, the three schools received $5.1 million in estate tax exemptions that year.

Parks Department officials, in typical Bloomberg administration fashion, were planning at first to push this deal quietly through the city's Franchise and Concessions Committee and thus avoid any City Council review.

But since they've decided to use money from the capital budget for the project, City Hall officials can't maneuver around the Council, which must approve the capital budget.

Now Foster, herself a product of one of those elite schools, is demanding to know why any private school should be given 30 years of special deals for public parks.

Originally published on October 27, 2006

Monday, October 30, 2006

"New Yankee Stadium train station to lure suburban fans" The Journal News 10/29/6

New Yankee Stadium train station to lure suburban fans

(Original publication: October 29, 2006)

By opening day three years from now, the Bronx Bombers anticipate playing to a packed house in a new billion-dollar stadium.

But fans from Westchester, Rockland and Putnam counties should be able to avoid pre- and post-game traffic jams by leaving their cars at their hometown train stations.

Next spring, when the Yankees begin building their new 55,000-seat stadium, Metro-North Railroad plans to break ground on a $45 million Yankee Stadium station.

Metro-North planners have just doubled their estimate of the number of fans who would take the train to Yankee games. After counting 10,000 riders who took the Long Island Rail Road to the National League playoff games at Shea Stadium this month, Metro-North spokeswoman Marjorie Anders said the railroad now anticipates 10,000 Yankee fans will hop on a Metro-North train to the team's 81 home games, too.

The railroad is running simulation models to determine how long the ride would take and how stadium-bound trains will fit into the schedule, while preserving the quality and quantity of service commuters have come to expect at the end of the workday.

The fastest ride to the stadium would be on the Hudson Line, Anders said, where the Yankee Stadium station will be located, so a trip from Tarrytown should take 20 minutes. Trains on the Harlem and New Haven lines would have to travel south of the stadium on their respective tracks before swinging north, so rides on those lines would take longer. Anders estimated that the ride from Port Chester or White Plains would take about 30 minutes.

Fans are excited by the idea of avoiding the hassles of traffic and parking when they go to a game.

"Who wouldn't take it?'' asked Michael Jimenez, 21, of Sleepy Hollow, who was wearing a Yankees cap and visiting a friend at the Yankees Clubhouse, a team memorabilia store in The Galleria in White Plains. "It can cost $20 or $25 to park, and it can take 20 minutes or an hour and a half to get home from the game."

His friend Erlin Almonte, 24, also of Sleepy Hollow, said he sometimes leaves games early to beat the traffic when the Yankees are ahead by 10 or 15 runs, and pointed out that a train ride would let him stay and see the whole game.

"It would be even better and more convenient, no matter how they do it," he said. "I think that's beautiful."

Fans from the city's boroughs have long been able to take the No. 4 or D subway trains to the Yankee Stadium/161st Street stop. Suburban fans can take Metro-North to 125th Street and walk a few blocks to the subway, but that's not a popular transfer point for suburban riders. A railroad station alongside the stadium should improve the odds that non-city residents will take the train to the game.

Here's how it will work: In the Bronx, at Woodlawn, the Harlem and New Haven lines merge and travel for seven miles south before they are joined by the Hudson Line at Mott Haven. At that junction, less than one-third of a mile southeast of the Yankee Stadium stop, there is a little-used track that allows trains from the Harlem and Hudson lines to switch over. That track is called a wye. A wye is shaped like the letter "Y," but with a curved connector between the two outstretched arms of the "Y." The railroad uses this track to reroute rescue trains, inspect tracks and redirect trains to its shops when they need repairs.

"Our concept is to spread the tracks to put two island platforms in for 10-car-length trains," said John Kennard, the railroad's director of planning and development.

The platforms would be served by stairs and elevators and connected to a new 24-foot-wide overpass, which the city will pay to build. Metro-North is negotiating with New York City and Related Companies of Manhattan for a new railroad right of way, Kennard said. A portion of the property the railroad needs to build the stadium station is on land owned by the state but leased to Related, which is building a shopping mall at the former Bronx Terminal Market nearby.

Before and after each home game, Metro-North expects to run 10 trains to and from the new station, serving riders on all three lines. Regular Metro-North riders could catch their commuter train to work in the morning and take a 15-minute express train from Grand Central Terminal to Yankee Stadium for a weeknight game.

The railroad's service plans are still being thought out, but northbound game trains might originate at Grand Central, then stop at 125th Street, where they would pick up game-bound riders heading south from Westchester, Putnam and Connecticut, Anders said. The 125th Street stop would add a minute or two to a game train's running time.

"I think the railroad station will probably get a lot of people out of their cars," said Robert Paaswell, director of the University Transportation Research Center at City College. "When they build the new Yankee Stadium, that will put pressure on for new restaurants, and you'll see more people coming in because of the ability to have lunch or dinner before or after the game."

Long a dream of railroad planners, the stadium station was endorsed by Gov. George Pataki and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg in April, then fast-tracked to approval by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority board three weeks later. The station will be the first new one built by the railroad since the Wassaic and Ten-Mile River stations opened in July 2000.

The MTA plans to fund the construction with $40 million that had been earmarked for a La Guardia Airport subway link, an idea Pataki abandoned in the wake of community opposition, and another $5 million previously set aside for a Yankee Stadium station design. Fans and transportation advocates said the Yankees - not the MTA and its riders - should also contribute.

The Yankees should pay at least half of it, both Almonte and Jimenez said.

Paaswell, the Straphangers Campaign and other transit advocates also think the MTA should not be paying the station's tab.

"We think the Yankees should be footing the bill," said Beverly Dolinsky, executive director of the Permanent Citizens Advisory Committee to the MTA. "Here you have the richest team in baseball and the MTA is facing huge deficits and why aren't they footing the bill for this? I definitely think they should have a station there, and I've thought so for a long time, but I don't think they should be paying for it. They could be using the money for other things. They have a lot of projects they can't do because they have to space them out because they don't have the money."

Paaswell said the Yankees ought to pay at least 25 percent of the cost, adding that the developer of adjacent land, Related, which will also benefit, should have to contribute.

MTA Chairman Peter Kalikow, who was recently reappointed to a second six-year term by Pataki, has brushed aside any notion that the team should pick up at least part of the tab, saying, "They're quite possibly the best team in baseball ... and we're lucky to have them."

Reach Caren Halbfinger at chalbfin@lohud.com or 914-694-5004.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

"A Study Links Trucks’ Exhaust to Bronx Schoolchildren’s Asthma" NY Times 10/29/06

Imagine what 4,500 extra garage spots financed by state and city tax-payer money for the new Yankee Stadium will do for asthma? Got any money for gas masks?

A Study Links Trucks’ Exhaust to Bronx Schoolchildren’s Asthma

By MANNY FERNANDEZ in New York Times, Sunday, October 29, 2006

In New York City, air pollution levels have typically been monitored by inanimate objects, at more than a dozen locations around town. But in the South Bronx, from 2002 to 2005, air pollution monitors went mobile. They went to the playground, to the gritty sidewalks, even to the movies.

A group of schoolchildren carried the monitors everywhere they went. The instruments, attached to the backpacks of children with asthma, allowed researchers at New York University to measure the pollution the children were exposed to, morning to night.

The South Bronx is home to miles of expressways, more than a dozen waste-transfer stations, a sewage-treatment plant and truck traffic from some of the busiest wholesale produce, meat and fish markets in the world.

It is also home to some of the highest asthma hospitalization rates for children in the city.

The N.Y.U. study found that the students were exposed to high levels of air pollutants in their neighborhoods and that children in the South Bronx were twice as likely to attend a school near a highway as were children in other parts of the city.

The findings paint a bleak picture of the air quality in one of the poorest sections of the city and have focused renewed attention from community groups and elected officials on curbing pollution from truck exhaust.

“The levels did surprise me,” said José E. Serrano, the Bronx representative whose district includes the South Bronx. “They are really telling us that this is a very serious problem.”

Mr. Serrano, who is a Democrat and who helped secure federal money for the study, and the researchers held a news conference this month about the findings.

Ten children from each of four public schools in the South Bronx — P.S. 154, M.S. 302, M.S. 201 and Community School 152 — took part in the study. They were given wheeled black and dark blue backpacks outfitted with a battery-powered pump and an air filter, along with other instruments.

“You rolled it, so it wasn’t really that heavy,” said Derrick Reliford, one of the students.

The children, who were volunteers ages 10 to 12, each took part in the study for a month. They reported to researchers stationed at the schools twice a day and kept diaries on their asthma symptoms and daily activities. Their lung function was tested, and the filters from their backpacks were regularly changed and analyzed. A van parked near the schools served as an air-monitoring lab.

Derrick, 14, took part in the study in 2002, when he was a student at Public School 154 on East 135th Street. The school is across the street from the Major Deegan Expressway.

His great-grandmother Evelyn Reliford, 70, said she never thought much about the air pollution in the Mott Haven neighborhood. “I didn’t really worry about it until they took the study,” said Mrs. Reliford.

Airborne particles like dust, soot and smoke that are less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter are small enough to lodge themselves deep in the lungs. Studies have linked pollution of this sort to respiratory problems, decreased lung function, nonfatal heart attacks and aggravated asthma, according to the United States Environmental Protection Agency.

E.P.A. officials said these fine particles, a significant portion of which are produced by diesel engine emissions, lead to 15,000 premature deaths a year nationwide.

In the South Bronx study, of the 69 days for which measurements were taken over the three-year period, average daily exposure to fine-particle pollution for a group of 10 children exceeded the E.P.A.’s new standard on 18 days. The standard will be 35 micrograms per cubic meter in December.

“I think it’s an indicator that these kids are being exposed to very high fine-particle concentrations on a fairly regular basis,” said George Thurston, associate professor of environmental medicine at the N.Y.U. School of Medicine, who was one of the study’s principal researchers.

Walter Mugdan, director of environmental planning and protection for the E.P.A. region that includes New York, said he had not seen the detailed study, which was financed in large part by an E.P.A. grant. He cautioned that there were differences between the methods used by the agency and by researchers to gather data on air pollution.

Bronx County is one of 10 counties in the state that exceed current federal air quality standards for fine-particle pollution. “We know that this is an area that has air quality that isn’t satisfactory,” he said.

Four Bronx organizations that supported the study — including the Point, a Hunts Point community group — have asked pro bono lawyers to look into their legal options to get the E.P.A. and the state to improve air quality in the South Bronx.

“Hopefully, this will ring the alarm bells a little louder,” said Kellie N. Terry-Sepulveda, executive managing director of the Point.

New York State must submit a plan to the E.P.A. by April 2008 detailing how it will bring its fine-particle pollution levels into compliance. States that fail to submit or implement their plans risk losing federal highway money. All states must bring their levels of fine-particle pollution into compliance by 2010, though they can ask for an exemption seeking more time, E.P.A. officials said.

The State Department of Environmental Conservation said in a statement that the state plan is under development and will be released for public comment late next year. Fine-particle pollution levels are expected to decrease as a result of city, state and federal measures already in place, the statement said.

Gov. George E. Pataki signed a bill in August that requires that all diesel vehicles owned by the state or working on state projects use low-sulfur diesel fuel and be retrofitted with the best available technology to reduce emissions.

Dr. Thurston said the findings of the study, which will be published in a scientific journal next year, showed that only 5 to 10 percent of the fine particle pollution was soot from diesel exhaust, but it was that portion that seemed to be having the worst effect on the children’s asthma. He said their symptoms, like wheezing, doubled on days when pollution from truck traffic was highest.

The study also examined the proximity of expressways to schools. Four expressways — the Cross Bronx, Major Deegan, Bruckner and Sheridan — and the Bronx River Parkway run through or around the South Bronx. About one-fifth of all students from prekindergarten to eighth grade in the area go to schools located within 500 feet, or about two blocks, of major highways, the study showed.

The research was conducted by the Institute for Civil Infrastructure Systems at the university’s Wagner Graduate School of Public Service.

Asthma, which causes wheezing, coughing and shortness of breath, is the most common chronic disease among children. In the Bronx, the borough with the highest percentage of children, the asthma hospitalization rate for boys and girls under 14 is 9.3 per 1,000 children.

Of the 10 neighborhood areas in the city with the highest rates, five are in the Bronx. The highest is East Harlem, according to state health data. At the Children’s Hospital at Montefiore Medical Center, the Bronx, there were 7,000 admissions last year; of those, 1,200 were asthma related. “It’s definitely a crisis,” Dr. Deepa Rastogi, director of the hospital’s Asthma Center, said of the borough’s asthma rates.

Dr. Rastogi and other Bronx asthma experts said air pollution was only one of the factors contributing to the problem. Asthma attacks can be triggered by secondhand smoke, dust mites, pets and mold, in addition to outdoor air pollution.

Dr. A. Hal Strelnick, a professor of family and social medicine at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in the Bronx, said the borough’s high rates stemmed from a high concentration of traffic in a densely populated area; poorly maintained housing in impoverished neighborhoods; a lack of access to medical care; and a large population of blacks and Hispanics, two groups with high rates of asthma.

He said his own asthma research and the N.Y.U. study showed that the old saying that we all breathe the same air may not necessarily be true in the South Bronx. “We think it’s the same air, but it’s not really the same air,” Dr. Strelnick said.

"Even Off the Field Mets Outclass Yankees" Norwood News, Oct. 19 - Nov. 1, 2006

Even Off the Field Mets Outclass Yankees

We’ve learned there’s another difference between the Mets and the Yankees that has nothing to do with payroll or their relative performances in the post-season.

While both teams succeeded in wrangling deals for new stadiums, only the Mets seem to have recognized that, along with some public financing, comes a degree of community responsibility.

During the playoffs, which the Mets are still participating in by the way, the evidence is on the giant TV screen at Shea where fans can see star players Carlos Delgado and Tom Glavine promote, of all things, the Mets’ home borough of Queens!

The spots include plugs for area parks and attractions, Flushing restaurants, and the borough president’s Discover Queens campaign.

And in stark contrast to their Bronx rivals, the Amazins strongly encourage their fans to take the subway to the games. The Yankees on the other hand, with the city as their accomplice, are taking public parkland to create more parking spaces even though they’re offering fewer seats and higher ticket prices in the new stadium!

It’s unclear whether the Mets came up with their creative promotional campaign (the spots also run on their new cable network SNY) to alleviate some initial political opposition to their construction plans. Mets Marketing executive David Newman told us there was no connection. The timing is probably a little too coincidental for that to be totally true.

Regardless, the point is that the Bombers are not running a similar campaign to promote Bronx neighborhoods and attractions and have no plans to. The contrast also illustrates how totally uncreative Bronx politicians were in exacting concessions from the Yankees.

How easy it would have been to capitalize on the Yankees’ need for a city signoff to finally make them pay a little attention to the borough they’ve maligned and threatened to leave for decades.

Now with the hands all dealt, the wealthiest franchise in sports history has gotten a free pass to ignore the Bronx — at least until they want another new stadium in another 80 years.

What a shame.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

"Yankee Stadium/Parks Exchange Underway" Gotham Gazette 10/2006

Yankee Stadium/Parks Exchange Underway

by Anne Schwartz
October, 2006

In mid-August, city workers fenced off Macombs Dam Park and part of Mullaly Park in the Bronx, chopped down hundreds of large trees, and turned over the three-block site to the Yankees for the construction of a new stadium and VIP parking. For people who live and work in the surrounding neighborhood, the loss of their leafy community park, with its heavily used running track and baseball and soccer fields, was heartbreaking.

“It was a great joy to me to look out the window and see people using that park,” said one woman, who asked not be named because she worked for the city and feared retribution from the Bronx political machine. “That park was used every single day, even in the snow. The kids played there; the older people went around the track. It was a very lovely place for people to be.”

In exchange for removing 22 acres of parkland from public use, the city has committed to spend $160 million over the next four years on 24.5 acres of new recreational facilities and open space.

Many in the community opposed the swap, saying it shortchanged residents by taking a large, open space surrounded by mature trees in a residential community and replacing it with sports fields and courts in several locations further from where people live. The plans include a track and artificial turf soccer field on top of a parking garage.

Joshua Laird, assistant commissioner for planning at the parks department, said, “We think the community is going to get really greatly improved recreational facilities in a community that needs that.” But he also said, “The hardest aspect of this project for us is seeing those trees go. Our basal area formula will allow us to replace the functioning of the trees, but there’s just no way to replace the grandeur of a mature elm tree.”

Construction of the stadium is on schedule, but the building of the promised interim and replacement parkland has gotten off to a slower start. Now residents are wondering when – and if – the new parks will be built.


The park department’s plan calls for parks and fields on several sites:

tennis courts and an esplanade on the now-derelict waterfront
an artificial turf soccer field and a running track on top of a new parking garage
three ball fields on the site of the old Yankee Stadium
several passive park areas and paved plazas
To replace 400 large, old trees that were cut down, the city expects to plant about 8,000 smaller trees, most outside of the immediate neighborhood.

The parks department has said it will finish the detailed plans for the new parkland in consultation with the community. Laird said that community outreach has begun with several recent visits to community board meetings, and that the department will be hiring a community liaison person for the project.

The new parks and playing fields are scheduled to be completed a year and a half after the Yankee’s new stadium opens for the 2009 baseball season.


An interim track and a number of temporary fields are supposed to be in place before the permanent facilities are completed. But some promised deadlines already have not been met. City officials did not deliver on their promise to construct a temporary running course around two ball fields next to Yankee Stadium by the time construction started, for example. And, according to the environmental impact statement, by the fall of 2006, there was supposed to be a track and soccer/baseball field on a parking lot ultimately destined for a four-story parking garage; city officials now say they hope to complete the field by next spring, weather permitting.

All this has fueled the fears of residents who already feel betrayed by the Bronx borough president and other local politicians who fast-tracked the parkland takeover despite neighborhood opposition. Many don’t believe that the city will end up building all the replacement parks, especially the fields in the old Yankee stadium.

“My fear is that they’ll have cost overruns, find asbestos in the old stadium—blah, blah, blah—and they won’t be able to do it,” said JJ Brennan, a resident who founded Save Our Parks, a neighborhood group that has brought a lawsuit to stop the stadium. “No money is allocated right now. That part is not supposed to happen until after 2009. There will be an election before then, and we’ll have a whole new slate of politicians who can do whatever they want.”

Hector Aponte, parks department Bronx borough commissioner, says that such fears are unfounded. “At some point, people have to realize that the city is acting in good faith,” Aponte said. “All the people who were so critical of the Croton filtration plant are starting to realize that we are improving parks all over the place. There are naysayers who never believe anything. They have to give us some time. To say it’s not going to happen, when the Yankees just started construction in August, I don’t think that’s fair.”


When the Yankee Stadium redevelopment plan was up for approval, the parks department said it would help teams that used the park find other places to play, giving priority for the closest fields to youth teams. Aponte said that his department met with representatives of all the youth leagues that play in the park last spring and explained that there was going to be a shortage of fields. “Maybe a month ago, we sent out letters to all permitted people and made calls to let them know if they wanted alternate space to contact the permit office,” he said.

It is hard to tell whether or not all teams have found alternative places to play. The soccer coach at a local Catholic school said his team didn’t find a new home field although other teams in his league did. The school’s track team has not found a track for practice, so they have been using the sidewalks and the street.

According to Aponte, even without the loss of Macombs Dam Park, there would be a shortage of playing fields in the Bronx because so many fields are being renovated with mitigation money from the filtration plant in Van Cortlandt Park. “The good news is that we’re renovating. The bad news is there are not enough fields,” he said. “We’ve asked teams to cooperate and share space. Up to now there haven’t been complaints.”


In a continuation of what some residents say is the Yankee’s history of disrespect for the largely black and Hispanic local community, the stadium construction is proceeding despite violations affecting the health and quality of life of residents. “Construction is still going on before 7 a.m. and on Saturday when the buildings department said they would not issue any more after-hours permits,” said Joyce Hogi, who lives across the street from the former park. A recent visit to the site found that trucks were not being washed down before leaving the site as required. It had recently rained, and Jerome Avenue was covered with mud. Residents said that when the weather is dry, the air is filled with dust. The neighborhood already has some of the highest asthma rates in the city.

“If you see what they’re doing with construction, they are already not doing what they promised,” said JJ Brennan. “Everything’s been a bait and switch with us.”

Asked about these complaints, Alice McGillion of Rubenstein Associates, spokesperson for the new Yankee Stadium, said, “The Yankees are in full compliance with all the construction rules and regulations.”


Save Our Parks, which has battled the project with few outside allies, sued unsuccessfully to block the stadium’s construction. It continues to press its lawsuit charging that the National Park Service did not conduct a thorough review before approving the project. The approval of the federal agency was required because Macombs Dam Park had received federal funding for improvements.

“If a conversion request comes through for a non-park use, such as the Yankees taking over Macombs Dam Park, it has to meet the criteria that it be of equal usefulness, accessibility and value, and we feel it is not,” said Hogi. At this point, it is too late to stop the stadium’s construction, she conceded. “What I’m hoping for -- this is as a private citizen -- is that we will get more parkland back. This community does not need four parking garages.”

Mary Blassingame, a former member of Community Board 4, which represents the area, led the board’s opposition to the stadium plan, and was later removed from her committee chair by Bronx Borough President Adolfo Carrion. She said, “What I’m hearing from the community is that people who were against the project, but weren’t reacting too much, are very, very upset now. People got really shocked when they saw the devastation.”

Anne Schwartz, in charge of the parks topic page since its inception in 1999, is a journalist who specializes in environmental issues.

Monday, October 23, 2006

"City Pads Yankees Budget" NY Observer blog The Real Estate, 10/23/06

City Pads Yankees Budget

The massive capital budget that the City Council passed in June had an extra $50 million or so in it for the Yankees to spend on their new stadium this year, though the Parks Department is saying that the city's total contribution over the next three years--about $160 million--will not change.

The budget shows that the City Council appropriated $98.8 million for fiscal year 2007 (see p. 784-785 in this PDF), with another $106 million expected to come in the following two years. Included is a whopping $51 million (or about 33 percent of the total) marked as "contingency" for the city's portion of the billion-dollar project (to pay for replacement parks and other "infrastructure").

Parks spokesman Warner Johnston says the extra $51 million is really just the 2008 commitment moved up a year in case construction moves along more quickly than anticipated. But the $51 million figure appears in the fiscal 2008 slot as well. That, Johnston said, after checking with the Office of Management and Budget, is the way that accounting is done. The $51 million won't be spent next year if it is spent this year, he said.

But Doug Turetsky, communications director for the Independent Budget Office, is still scratching his head.

"It is highly unusual," he told us, after consulting with his finance guru, Preston Niblack. "Typically what is done is that you put as much as you think you are going to possibly spend on a project in one year, and then if you don't need it, you allocate it into future years. They are doing the reverse."

Ultimately, the real story will come out next June, when the Council either adds another $51 million to the account or not.

-Matthew Schuerman

UPDATE: OMB spokesman Ray Orlando just called to say that the $51 million figure should only have appeared in the fiscal 2007 slot, and that the duplication in 2008 will be deleted when the capital budget is revised in January.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

"New IRS bond regs could affect Nets arena" Field of Schemes, 10/20/6

October 20, 2006

New IRS bond regs could affect Nets arena

In the wake of the possibly illegal stadium finance deals worked out by the New York Yankees and Mets earlier this year, the Internal Revenue Service has proposed new regulations governing the use of payments in lieu of taxes (PILOTs) to pay off tax-exempt bonds. If the new regs go into effect following a scheduled public hearing on February 17, developers would no longer be allowed to use federally subsidized low-interest bonds for projects repaid via PILOTs unless the payments represent "a fixed percentage of, or reflect a fixed adjustment to, the amount of generally applicable taxes in each year, based on comparable current valuation assessments."

What on earth does that mean in English? First off, the basic dodge of the Yanks and Mets deals would still be intact: Developers could still use tax-exempt bonds for privately financed projects - normally a no-no - by calling their rent payments "payments in lieu of" property taxes they wouldn't have to pay regardless. What they couldn't do is set out a fixed schedule of PILOT payments ahead of time based on projected property-tax payments, as the baseball teams did. Instead, the PILOT payments would have to be pegged to actual annual property assessments, and would float year to year as the value of the property rose and fell. And since bond buyers really really don't like uncertainty in their bond payments, they'd doubtless demand that either the developer sell a smaller amount of bonds for the same projected PILOTs (to create a cushion in case of a shortfall), or buy bond insurance - either one of which would make the project more expensive to finance.

The Yanks and Mets bonds are long since sold, but the new IRS regs could come into play for the proposed Brooklyn Nets arena, which would use a similar tax-exempt bond plan. Matthew Schuerman of the New York Observer goes so far as to speculate that they may "imperil" the entire Atlantic Yards finance plan, but really, this is just a matter of forcing Ratner (or the public) to pay more to borrow the funds for it. Though it's worth recalling that this same problem - that bond buyers want to know where their money is coming from - is the same one that forced the New York Jets' Manhattan stadium plan to switch from tax-increment financing to fixed PILOT payments back in 2003. At what point might Atlantic Yards be too rich for Ratner's blood? That's between the man and his fleet of accountants.

Friday, October 20, 2006

"IRS Haunts Stadium Deals" NY Observer blog The Real Estate 10/20/6

IRS Haunts Stadium Deals

FILE UNDER: Atlantic Yards, Stadiums

The IRS is planning to revisit the financing scheme behind the new Yankees and Mets stadiums because, according to sources cited by The Bond Buyer, the arrangements looked "too much like a private loan." The feds approved those deals earlier this year, concluding that the payments in lieu of taxes that the sports teams would use to pay off the bonds resembled general taxes. Dan Steinberg, research analyst at Good Jobs New York, told us that it is unclear if the proposed regulations would have prohibited the stadium bonds had they been in place earlier (thay almost certainly won't affect them now, just other similar projects around the country), but that yesterday's action "is a reflection of the ambiguities in the IRS decision and how difficult it is for the IRS to make the case that PILOTS are the same thing as tax revenue."

What's the big deal? The new regulations will drive to the heart of the question about whether cities should be allowed to use their power to issue tax-exempt bonds for the benefit of privately owned sports franchises (which don't even make it into the World Series, to boot). And the new rules may imperil Forest City Ratner's deal to finance the Nets arena.

-Matthew Schuerman

Posted by The Real Estate on October 20, 2006 02:09 PM

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

"NYU Study Links Bronx Pollution To Asthma" WNBC 10/16/6

NYU Study Links Bronx Pollution To Asthma

POSTED: 7:18 pm EDT October 16, 2006
UPDATED: 8:16 pm EDT October 16, 2006

NEW YORK -- High levels of pollution in the South Bronx may be related to an asthma epidemic experienced by the area's children, according to a new 5-year study released by New York University on Monday.

Researches from NYU's School of Medicine and the Wagner Graduate School analyzed data collected by children wearing special backpacks, which measured the air in their homes, neighborhoods, and their schools.

Lucinda Lewis, a mother whose 16-year-old son has asthma, said she believes the pollution is caused by all the traffic.

"There's more and more traffic coming in this area," she said.

During the study, the symptoms of asthma doubled among elementary school children on days with a greater-than-average amount of traffic.

"This study points specifically to trans and traffic pollution as a major cause of high asthma rates," said Rep. Jose Serrano in a press conference held Monday.

George Thurston, from the NYU School of Medicine, said the diesel soot was most associated with the worsening of the children's symptoms.

Twenty percent of children in the Bronx attend school within 500 feet of a major highway, which are typically places where pollution exceeds the acceptable levels, the report said.

Derrick Reliford, one of the children who participated in the asthma study, offered a solution.

"They could change the fuel to make it not emit that stuff in the air. That could make it better," he said.

On Sunday, the federal government ordered new formulation guidelines for diesel fuel.

The new guidelines will take several years to take effect, but eventually 97 percent of the sulfur in diesel fuels will be removed according to federal guidelines.

Congressman Serrano said this study offers a reason to build schools farther away from highways in order to protect children.

Friday, October 13, 2006

"A New Ballpark Isn't Always A Blueprint for Success", The Sun 10/12/6

A New Ballpark Isn't Always A Blueprint for Success

October 12, 2006

Who said a team needs a new stadium with all sorts of revenue producing bells and whistles to compete? Five of the eight teams that made it to the playoffs this year play in what some would consider old and dilapidated facilities.

New York's teams play in old stadiums: Yankee Stadium was opened in 1923, and the first game played at Shea was in 1964.The Oakland A's seem to be a fixture in the playoffs, and they play in a football stadium built in the mid-1960s, while the Minnesota Twins, who also seem to have good teams, play out of a dome built in the early 1980s. After leaving Brooklyn after the 1957 season, the Los Angeles Dodgers played for four years in a football stadium (the Los Angeles Coliseum) before moving into Dodger Stadium in 1962.

In St. Louis, the Cardinals upgraded to a new, state-of-the-art Busch Stadium, only to cut payroll thereafter. And it took new baseball management — not a new stadium — to lift Detroit's fortunes. San Diego opened a new stadium in 2004 and has gotten better, but the team was a mediocre 82–80 when it won the NL West in 2005 and improved by six games to 88–74 when it won the divisional title this year. But neither winning divisional team will ever remind anyone of the 1927 Yankees.

During the past two decades, baseball team owners have put forth an argument that their teams cannot compete for top draft picks, and expensive and experienced talent, without the extra revenue that new stadiums can bring. Somehow the owners have managed to convince politicians that municipalities need to spend money on facilities or risk a slumping team.

Even the former mayor of New York, Rudolph Giuliani, bought into it. In 2001, with George Steinbrenner's Yankees blowing out the competition when it came to banking stadium revenue in a then 78-year-old facility and the Mets ranked second in baseball revenues, Giuliani made his pitch. "The reality is, as I have said many times, both of them need new ballparks in order to be competitive," the mayor, standing outside Yankee Stadium on Opening Day, said.

"Maybe not this very year, but in order to be competitive over the next 10, 15, 20 years with their major competitors. Boston is getting a new ballpark; Baltimore has a new ballpark. Atlanta has a brand new ballpark. That's all going to enhance their revenues. And if the Yankees and the Mets want to remain competitive with Baltimore, Boston or Atlanta, then that's something we just have to do," Giuliani said.

Five years later, Baltimore and Atlanta have terrible teams and Boston failed to make the playoffs because of injuries and a fall off in talent that was not caused by a cash shortfall.

Oakland is making its fifth playoff appearance since 2000, despite losing players like Jason Giambi, Miguel Tejada, Johnny Damon, Mike Mulder, and Tim Hudson. Minnesota has won four of the last five American League Central Division titles.

Neither Oakland nor Minnesota have new facilities, although that will change in 2010 when Minneapolis opens a new ballpark.The point is it can't be all about money. Perhaps general managers Billy Beane of the A's and Terry Ryan of the Twins, have figured out formulas that work for their teams.

Detroit got one of those shiny, new, revenue-producing places in 2000, but a funny thing happened along the way. Detroit had an awful team and people stayed away from the new park.

So it's not really the park that drives a team's fortunes as the owners, and baseball commissioners Fay Vincent and Bud Selig, claim. It's smart management. How else to explain the Florida Marlins winning a championship six years after Wayne Huizenga dismembered his 1997 championship squad? Or how the Marlins could make a run at the 2006 playoffs after getting rid of key players during the past two years in a stadium designed for football and which generates very little revenue for owner Jeffrey Loria? It has to be smart guys at the helm.

Think of all the cities that built — with taxpayers' dollars — new stadiums with the promise that revenue from the facilities would go to improving the team. That list includes Baltimore, Pittsburgh, Seattle, Cincinnati, Philadelphia, and Atlanta. The Braves, for one, were good under Ted Turner and their on-field misfortunes may have a lot more to do with Time Warner cutbacks and mismanagement than anything else. The Braves have since been sold to another broadcast cable company, Liberty Media. Cleveland, Colorado and Arizona did do well for a while before sliding into mediocrity. The Chicago White Sox won a world's championship in the team's 15th year at its new stadium and Anaheim won a title in a renovated 36-year-old facility. But both are big market franchises that get a lot of TV and corporate dollars.

Two of baseball's most cherished parks are more like places to be seen than stadiums: The center of the Red Sox burgeoning entertainment center plans, Fenway Park in Boston (which doubles as a catering hall), has become more than a stadium. Meanwhile, Wrigley Field is a major revenue producer for the Chicago Tribune Company's Cubs by virtue of being "Wrigley Field." The Cubs are reasonably competitive in most years, but their losing ways have more to do with poor baseball decisions than the lack of a new stadium.

Sadly, Yankee Stadium, Shea Stadium, and the Metrodome, will be replaced within the next three years. The Yankees and Mets figure to see skyrocketing revenues at their new baseball palaces. The Twins will see increased revenue, too. Oakland's ownership wants a new stadium, and while the Dodgers' ownership has a huge debt from a rather large cost of purchasing the team from Rupert Murdoch, the McCourt family is renovating the stadium and is hoping to generate more revenue. The Yankees and Mets can always cover up management lapses but there is something to be said for working hard and finding the right players to make a good team. Beane and Ryan have mastered that job in Oakland and Minnesota unlike their colleagues in newer, flashier facilities in Pittsburgh or Kansas City where bad management has meant bad teams.

Sports owners like new stadiums because they can reap the benefits of raising prices on parking, concession, and both regular and luxury box tickets. While the teams can then produce more money for an owner, it's not necessarily the stadium that makes a team better. Just look at the five old stadiums that figured in this year's playoffs. Finding smart baseball people seems to be the answer, not new stadiums.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

"The Yankees: Steinbrenner's Money Machine" BusinessWeek 09/28/98

Pity the greedy and ailing egoistic old man, George Steinbrenner, for feeling “deeply disappointed” for being eliminated so early in the playoffs. This first-round failure is the second season in a row since 2005 when he schemed with the Bronx Gang of Five (Adolfo Carrion, Carmen & Maria Arroyo, Jose & Joel Rivera) to steal 22 acres of scarce public parkland for a publicly-subsidized new stadium that foreshadows the destruction of the House-That-Ruth-Built.

Love of sports? Concern for people’s health? Environment? Fiscal responsibility for taxpayers? No way! Not for Steinbrenner and the Group of Five. For them it’s all about the money. Here’s some history. Click on the title to access this BusinessWeek article.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

"Dems' Bx Chief: I'm Graft Dodger" NY Post 10/03/06

Yo, Rivera, what ya gonna do with that Yankee slush fund?



October 3, 2006 -- Bronx Democratic boss José Rivera yesterday insisted he had never abused his power - after learning he was the subject of an FBI probe of real-estate dealings in the borough.

"I have never used or abused my position," a shocked Rivera said outside his University Heights home. "This is the first I have heard of this."

The veteran state assemblyman said he learned of the Public Corruption Unit investigation in yesterday's Post.

Rivera said his only dealings with developers in The Bronx had occurred through city administrators in charge of real-estate projects.

"I've never dealt with developers personally," he said. "These projects have been done with the knowledge and the assistance of the city."

Sources told The Post that a Manhattan federal grand jury had handed down subpoenas for government and business records as it looks into Rivera and a well-known party lawyer, Stanley Schlein.

Schlein, who has worked as a Democratic lobbyist and advocate for development projects in The Bronx, has also denied any knowledge of the investigation.

Both Schlein and Rivera were involved in lobbying for the approval of plans for the new, $1 billion Yankee Stadium.

A Yankee spokeswoman declined to comment, but sources close to the team said that the new stadium wasn't part of the probe and that they hadn't received any subpoenas.

The pair also worked together to lobby for approval of a $1.5 billion water-filtration plant underneath Van Cortlandt Park. As part of the waterworks deal, The Bronx stands to get $240 million for its parks.

A spokesman for the city's Department of Environmental Protection did not respond to The Post's inquiries as to whether the department had received a subpoena for records or if it was a subject of the probe.

Rivera said he had no business relationship with Schlein and had not discussed the federal probe with him.

"I have not spoken to him, but I think he is just as surprised as I am," Rivera said.

Spokesman Michael Nieves said the assemblyman had also advocated for the $40 million redevelopment of the Terminal Market.

Nieves said neither he nor the assemblyman had a clue as to which deal or deals the federal grand jury was probing.

"It would be wrong for us to try and predict which one it is," Nieves said.

Rivera said all three developments had helped revitalize The Bronx.

"I haven't done anything wrong," he said. "They are good projects, and they create jobs."


Monday, October 02, 2006

"Bronx Bigs In Probe" NY POST 10/02/06



October 2, 2006 -- The feds are probing two Bronx political powerhouses and their roles in lucrative real-estate dealings in the borough, The Post has learned.

Sources said the FBI is investigating the dealings of Bronx Democratic leader José Rivera and Stanley Schlein, the longtime lawyer for the party and a well-known figure in local politics.

Schlein served as a lobbyist for the New York Yankees, which enlisted most of the city's political establishment, including Rivera, on its side to push through plans for a new $1 billion ballpark.

The federal probe doesn't currently include the new Yankee Stadium project, but sources said the deal likely will be examined.

About a month ago, an agent from the bureau's Public Corruption Unit quizzed Ellington Taylor, 62, who until his recent retirement had served as Rivera's driver for more than two decades.

Sources said a Manhattan federal grand jury has issued subpoenas for government and business records.

The sources wouldn't provide any other details.

Schlein expressed shock when contacted by The Post yesterday, saying there is no basis for an investigation.

"I'm absolutely befuddled," he said. "I'm at a complete loss."

Schlein said he's been involved in only two major Bronx land-use projects in recent years, both in well-documented public roles.

One was the Yankee Stadium deal. He said he also served as an unpaid advocate for the Bloomberg administration when it sought approval of a $1.5 billion water-filtration plant underneath Van Cortlandt Park, which Rivera also championed.

As part of the deal, The Bronx is receiving $240 million to renovate its parks.

After the FBI visited Taylor, Schlein said the driver called him and he contacted Rivera.

Rivera couldn't be reached for comment.

But Schlein said he and Rivera have no business relationship and Rivera is not involved with any developers.

FBI officials declined comment.

Rivera is a former city councilman whose son, Joel, now serves as the council majority leader and whose daughter, Naomi, is an assemblywoman from the borough.

Schlein has served as an adviser to a wide range of politicians, from Al Sharpton to Fernando Ferrer.


Sunday, October 01, 2006

"Yanks call up friends to skirt disability law" Metro New York, 9/28/6

Yanks call up friends to skirt disability law

by patrick arden / metro new york

SEP 28, 2006
MANHATTAN — A taxpayer-subsidized stadium for the New York Yankees had no bigger champion than Rudolph Giuliani. The former mayor was even willing to spend $800 million to go “halfsies” on a new ballpark for the team.
When the Yankees began planning its new stadium on 22 acres of parkland in the South Bronx, Yankees president Randy Levine — Giuliani’s former deputy — made sure his ex-boss got in on the action.

In an October 2005 letter to U.S. Attorney Michael Garcia, Levine prominently namedrops the hiring of Giuliani Security & Safety as a consultant while making a case for why the team should be let out of meeting the last of its obligations to provide wheelchair seating in the current stadium.

Rudy and the ADA

In 1999 the team settled a lawsuit brought under the Americans with Disabilities Act by crafting an agreement with the U.S. Justice Department and the city that allowed for the phase-in of facilities for the disabled.

“The Yankees made all of the concessions that we had requested,” said the lawsuit’s lead plaintiff, James Pascuiti.

These included modified bathrooms and the addition of more than 400 wheelchair and companion seats by the 2002 season.
Starting in 2003, the gradual addition of another 210 wheelchair and companion seats contained stipulations that gave the team a way out. But to get the pass, the Yankees had to show it had contractual guarantees of a new stadium to open within the next few seasons or that it had expended “substantial effort or resources” in securing a new ballpark.

In his 2005 letter to Garcia, Levine wanted to get the team out of providing the very last of these seats — just 28 wheelchair spots with 28 companions in the main reserve section — because he professed proof that a new stadium would open for the 2009 season.

“The Yankees would be willing to submit a declaration under penalty of perjury to satisfy [the requirement] for the grant of relief,” Levine wrote, claiming the team had already “retained ... numerous consultants and professionals” for the new stadium, including Giuliani Security & Safety and SafirRosetti, a firm owned by former police chief Howard Safir.

A year ‘moratorium’

In his response, Garcia granted the team a “one-year moratorium,” in recognition of the “significant steps” taken toward a new stadium.

But while calls to SafirRosetti were not returned, an official at Giuliani’s firm said it had not yet been retained by the team.
The Yankees did not return calls for comment.

The U.S. Attorney’s office could not say whether it would extend the Yankees’ “moratorium.”

“I tried to go to a ballgame once last year, but they weren’t accessible,” said Edith Prentiss of the group Disabled in Action. “I live in northern Manhattan, so Yankee Stadium is a hop, skip and a jump. Seven us were going, and I was the only wheelchair. But they had no place for six seats and a wheelchair. They told me I could sit by myself. Who goes to Yankee Stadium to sit by themselves? I figured why should I go where they don’t want me as a customer.”

ADA in the new park

• The United Spinal Association is consulting with both the Yankees and the Mets on their new ballparks.


When state Supreme Court Judge Herman Cahn denied Highbridge residents’ request for a temporary restraining order to stop the Yankees from chopping down 170 trees in Macombs Dam and John Mullaly parks, he paid special heed to the team’s contention that “the existing stadium is not in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.”

“The new stadium is needed by the 2009 season due to settlement agreements entered into as a result of litigation over the current stadium’s non-compliance with the ADA,” Cahn wrote.

“That’s bulls—t,” said Edward Kopelson, the attorney who represented the plaintiffs in the 1999 settlement. “The property was constructed before the passage of the ADA, so there was a phase-in the Yankees had to do over a period of years. They’re totally in compliance with the ADA as a result of complying with the settlement agreement. There was a lot they had to do — parking, bathrooms, the ticket booth. There’s no problem.”