Wednesday, November 28, 2007

"Elevator Diplomacy" Village Voice 11/27/7

Elevator Diplomacy
Yankee Stadium gets a walkway, a politician gets a big donation, and you get a fat bill
by Graham Rayman
November 27th, 2007 4:28 PM

The Glasers—a family of Bronx elevator-equipment moguls—haven't been too big on giving money to political campaigns. In fact, city campaign-finance records show that before this spring, they and their company—G.A.L. Manufacturing in the South Bronx—hadn't given a single dollar to local candidates. Ever.

So why did the Glasers suddenly drop almost $30,000 into Bronx Borough President Adolfo Carrion's campaign war chest in May and July?

Could it have anything to do with the fact that the city had just agreed to pay the Glasers a whopping $5 million for "air rights" over their East 153rd Street property to make way for the renovation of an old pedestrian bridge to the new Yankee Stadium?

The thing that makes the timing of their contribution even more intriguing is that the same politically connected lawyer involved in the air-rights deal also acted as the middleman in raising those contributions for Carrion.

The Glasers didn't return the Voice's phone calls. A spokesman for Carrion referred questions to his campaign office, which said, "The borough president has many first-time contributors, as people throughout the city have taken notice of his proven track record in governing."

The pedestrian bridge is a small but key piece of the massive stadium project because it connects the new Metro North station to the stadium property. An existing pedestrian bridge is considered too narrow and out of compliance with federal disability laws.

Under the deal signed last spring, the city agreed to pay $5 million to the Glasers for the air rights over their property to allow for widening and improving the concrete pedestrian bridge leading to the foot of Yankee Stadium. The air-rights deal will cost taxpayers almost as much as the $6.5 million that the city plans to spend actually renovating the bridge.

City officials say that the $5 million bought three things: access to the property for two years, the right to put the bridge over the property, and a piece of land on which to set a column that will support the bridge.

The new bridge, according to a source with the city Economic Development Corporation, will limit G.A.L.'s ability to build over the parking lot and, to some extent, to build up on its existing factory. The deal takes into consideration the impact on G.A.L. and the tight construction deadline, as well as the wish to avoid an eminent-domain fight, the EDC source says.

But the actual contract filed with the city offers a slightly different view. The deal specifically states that the new bridge cannot affect the company's right to expand its building.

Carrion, who has mayoral aspirations but has yet to declare his candidacy, has been a major backer of the Yankee Stadium plan, touting the project's economic-development and employment benefits. He's also been the target of criticism from some community advocates.

"It's a poorly planned project that has screwed over a neighborhood of poor people," says Lucas Herbert, a local resident (and, professionally, an urban planner) who opposes the project. "He's selling out the whole neighborhood so he gets the chance to run for mayor."

The G.A.L. cash isn't the only recent Carrion campaign contribution that has raised questions. Daily News columnist Juan Gonzalez reported last week that the Baldor's supermarket chain gave $6,000 to Carrion the same week that the borough president backed the company's request for tax-exempt government bonds to expand its Hunts Point food-processing center. The company also hired Carrion's former press spokesman, Gonzalez reported.

The $30,000 in contributions from the Glasers to Carrion were raised through an intermediary, Ricardo E. Oquendo, of the major lobbying firm Davidoff and Malito, records show. Oquendo was formerly counsel to the Bronx Democratic Party and former state assemblyman Roberto Ramirez. (Under the law, an intermediary is someone who solicits or delivers contributions from a third party to a campaign, a city campaign-finance spokesman said.)

The timing of the contributions is also interesting. On May 15, the Glasers made their first $5,000 contribution to Carrion via Oquendo.

Two days later, on May 17, Herbert Glaser, a G.A.L. principal, had Oquendo notarize the easement contract, records show.

On July 3, Glaser officially signed the contract that sold the air rights to the city, via the MTA, for the $5 million, records show.

Three days later, on July 6, the Glasers made five more donations to Carrion via Oquendo, totaling $25,000. In each of the six contributions, the Glasers gave the maximum amount allowed under the law.

On Friday, Oquendo declined to comment on how the contributions came about and refused to discuss his clients. He also refused to say whether he had done any lobbying work for G.A.L.

The Glaser contributions placed the company among Carrion's most generous donors this year.

Other top donors to Carrion include the Related Companies, which gave $34,156. Related is building the massive Gateway Mall just down the street from the stadium—a project supported by Carrion. Related is also the developer most closely associated with the Bloomberg administration.

At the same time that G.A.L. negotiated the $5 million air-rights deal, Related got $1.2 million from Metro North for an easement over a small sliver of its property to allow for the widening of rail tracks.

Rounding out the top four donors to Carrion this year were executives with Rudin Management, a major real estate firm, who gave $29,710, and top officials with TriLine Contracting, a construction firm, who gave $31,000. Carrion also got $4,950 from Yankee Global Enterprises on May 18.

Carrion's campaign has been ahead of the pack in accepting contributions from limited-liability corporations, known as LLCs, and partnerships—largely from real estate and construction interests. Campaign-finance records show that he has raised more than $250,000 from LLCs and partnerships since January 2006.

A law signed by Mayor Bloomberg in July will make it against the law for campaigns to accept contributions from LLCs and partnerships as of January 1, 2008.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

"Yankees paying A-Rod, but taxpayers will be paying more too" Daily News 11/16/7

Yankees paying A-Rod, but taxpayers will be paying more too

Friday, November 16th 2007, 4:00 AM
Juan Gonzalez

As the Yankees get ready to hand Alex Rodriguez a new $275 million contract, team executives are squeezing city taxpayers for millions more for the team's new Bronx stadium.

Only last year, Mayor Bloomberg assured the public the city's total contribution for "infrastructure improvements" around the new stadium would not exceed $145 million.

Well, the Yankees have already hit that gift ball out of the park.

A new analysis of the capital budget by City Controller William Thompson says City Hall has slated $235 million for stadium improvements between now and 2011.

That's a $90 million increase over what the public was told before the City Council approved the stadium deal in April 2006.
Then last week the Yankees suddenly claimed an extra $5 million in retroactive deductions from the city to their stadium rent for 2005.

The Yankees say all of that was connected to planning for the new stadium.
Under a series of amendments to the current stadium lease that began under Rudy Giuliani in 2001, and were extended by Mayor Bloomberg in 2005, the city has allowed the Yankees to deduct up to $5 million a year from the team's rent to pay for "planning costs" for the new stadium.

The Yankees must show proof of the actual expenses in canceled checks and vendor invoices.

A few months ago, the civic watchdog group Good Jobs New York questioned tens of thousands of dollars in credits the Yankees had claimed.

The Parks Department then concluded the team's filings for 2004, 2005 and 2006 were so disorganized and mixed in with ineligible day-to-day team expenses that the agency could not figure them out.

Red-faced team executives agreed to fix the mess and resubmit all their documentation. They did so recently, and the Daily News reviewed the new material this week under a Freedom of Information Act request.

The new filings show the Yankees suddenly doubled from $5 million to $10 million the amount of rent credits they are claiming for the 2005 season.

In addition, they continue to claim more than $9 million in credits for 2006. That's a total of $19 million in credits for the past two years, but city lawyers have questioned whether the team can deduct more than $5 million in any one year under the lease agreement.

"The city is reviewing the lease and the submissions of the planning credits," said Parks Department spokeswoman Jama Adams, "and expects the Yankees to comply with the terms of the lease."

In addition, the controller's office began an audit of the rent credits several weeks ago.

"We look forward to reviewing the documents with both Parks and the controller," Yankees spokeswoman Alice McGillon said.
As for the capital costs, city officials conceded the sharp increase last week, but they say a good part of that was unexpected.
Of the $90 million increase, they noted, half represents the city's contribution to a new Yankee stadium Metro-North station that the mayor announced after the stadium deal was approved.

Then there were "environmental issues along the Bronx waterfront [near the stadium] that were greater than we had anticipated," said one city official. "That added about $10 million more."

Finally, there's that old standby of City Hall's economic planners, "rising construction costs," which they say added another $35 million in just one year.

It seems the more the Yankees shell out for A-Rod and their other stars, the more you and I pay for George Steinbrenner's new stadium

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

"New Yankee stadium gobbles up last bit of parkland" Daily News 11/13/7

New Yankee stadium gobbles up last bit of parkland

Tuesday, November 13th 2007, 4:00 AM

Going from Park to parking, the last patch of parkland to be taken for the new Yankee Stadium project was fenced off last week, so construction of a parking garage could begin.

That part of Macombs Dam Park - bounded by the Macombs Dam Bridge approach to the north, Ruppert Place to the east and 157th St. and the Major Deegan Expressway to the west - will be the site of Garage A.

When completed, the two-story garage also will have a rooftop park with regulation soccer/football field, a 400-meter running track, 10 handball courts, four basketball courts, children's play equipment and a comfort station.

The rooftop park is one of several being built in the neighborhood - though some are far away from - in order to replace more than 25 acres of parkland being used for the stadium project.

Under Parks Department regulations, whenever parkland is given up for development, the city is required to replace each acre with comparable facilities in the same neighborhood.

But parks advocates and local opponents of the stadium project suspect the city is shortchanging the area.

When the Yankees dug up John Mullaly and Macombs Dam parks, the neighborhood lost 25 acres of open green space and 400 mature oak trees, while the "replacement parks" are largely artificial turf rooftop fields and concrete esplanades.

Ruppert Plaza, for example, is a paved pedestrian walkway next to the existing stadium that will be counted, largely unchanged, as park acreage in the replacement plan.

Joshua Laird, the Parks Department's assistant commissioner for planning and natural resources, said the function of the plaza will change once replacement parks are finished.

"In its current form, it's just a way for people to circulate around the stadium," he said. "But when the work is complete, it will be the link between Heritage Field and the park on top of Garage A."

Heritage Field, current site of the House that Ruth Built, will become the core of the new community park, with three ball fields.

But even by the Parks Department's own numbers, the replacement package is a bit light.

While 25.31 acres were taken for the project, the replacement plan gives back only 24.15 acres.

Monday, November 05, 2007

"Ballpark Figures Top City Concession Haul" NY Post 10/5/7

By DAVID SEIFMAN, City Hall Bureau Chief

November 5, 2007 -- The city made more money out of Yankee Stadium parking last year that it did from the rest of the ballpark.

Newly compiled Parks Department figures show the city collected $3 million in parking concession fees at the historic stadium in fiscal 2007 - $700,000 more than the $2.3 million the Yankees paid to lease the entire facility during that 12- month period.

Officials attributed the topsy-turvy numbers to deals made by City Hall over the years, particularly during the Giuliani administration, that allow the Yankees to deduct the cost of improvements at the stadium from their rent payments, as well as costs associated with planning for the new stadium, now under construction.


Click the title above to continue reading this article and to see a graph included with it over at the Post's site.