Wednesday, January 16, 2008

"Will stadium parking become a ticket to ride?" City Limits 1-14-8

Bronxites wonder what will happen with all those new parking spots.
By Mathilde Piard

City Limits WEEKLY #622
January 14, 2008

As seen from a helicopter, a new Yankee Stadium goes up right next to the old one. Photo by Anup Kaphle

If Mayor Bloomberg's traffic congestion pricing plan comes to pass, the financial disincentive to drive into Manhattan – added to some commuters' natural disinclination to fight city traffic – raises questions about whether the future Yankee Stadium parking facilities will become a de facto park-and-ride.
And while such lots are often considered a positive thing – the lots at Shea Stadium are popular with drivers who'd rather ride the 7 train than sit in crosstown traffic – local residents are worried about the potential for worse pollution and asthma problems in the surrounding South Bronx neighborhood.

Proposed by Bloomberg in April as a method of reducing traffic, congestion pricing would charge drivers for entering the busiest streets at the busiest times: $8 per auto headed into lower Manhattan between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m on weekdays. Alternative congestion mitigation plans currently being discussed include a $4 toll on all bridges going into Manhattan. Parking facilities for the new Yankee Stadium, which is being built adjacent to the existing stadium, thus look like a potential transit hub, as they lie close to the Major Deegan Highway, Macombs Dam Bridge, the 4 and D subway station at 161st Street, and the Metro-North rail station under construction. Some community activists and elected officials fear the expanded stadium parking will encourage drivers coming from points north and the Bronx itself to park at the stadium and then hop on to public transportation to avoid incurring Manhattan's congestion pricing fees or paying a bridge toll.

Although a range of possible rates are cited, it's likely that monthly parking at the new stadium, plus a month-long subway TransitChek, would cost less than congestion fees and gas. Based on the usage of Shea stadium lots, though, some observers say park-and-rides are as much about ease of travel as saving money.

The 40 percent parking expansion underway – from 6,548 spaces in 11 lots and two garages to 9,127 spaces in six lots and five garages – carries a host of complications with it, as many things relating to the stadium project do. While a park-and-ride could bring new auto traffic and pollution to the area, it also could relieve a parking shortage in the nearby "Capitol District." And although no one wants to exacerbate the Bronx's asthma rates – the highest in the city – many do want to encourage mass transit.

(For a detailed map of the parking garages and lots, click here.)

Those issues are further tangled by controversy over the city's initial and current intentions about who gets to use the parking when. Existing Yankee Stadium garages are open only to game traffic on game days. But whether the new garages were originally intended to be open to the public on non-game days is a contested question. While Janel Patterson, spokeswoman for the NYC Economic Development Corporation (EDC), said that the parking facilities “were always envisioned to be open on non-game days in deference to the community,” some neighborhood sources say otherwise, and documents such as the June 2005 Request for Proposal, the Community Benefits Agreement and the Environmental Impact Statement point both ways.

The stadium deal has been under fire since construction plans were announced in 2005 to take away parkland to build thousands of new parking spaces in three new garages, even though the new stadium will have approximately 5,000 fewer seats and the new Metro-North station is expected to bring 10,000 fans to games. (Patterson declined to explain the rationale for this formulation.)

Controversy arose again in October when the city’s Industrial Development Agency voted in favor of subsidizing the construction of these parking facilities through the issuance of $237 million in tax-exempt bonds. The Daily News recently reported that 600 parking spaces will be kept for the Yankees and their VIPs to get year-round free valet parking for the next 40 years, courtesy of state taxpayers.

Presently, three facilities with 2,972 spaces are planned to be open during the off-season. Two of them have rooftop parks to make up for the loss of Macombs Dam Park, and will be closed so that park users will not be subjected to car fumes rising from below.

J.J. Brennan, a blogger for Save Our Parks, the community group that tried to block the stadium’s construction, thinks the garages have been planned all along with the idea of serving as park-and-rides for commuters. “You begin to wonder why they were so adamant for the need for these new garages," says Brennan. Because his group didn't think they would be open all year, he says: “That's a bait and switch.”

According to a feasibility study embedded in a bond offering issued last month, only 250 local residents and 200 park-and-ride commuters will use the off-season parking. The projection, however, does not take into account behaviors if a congestion pricing plan is enacted, and acknowledges that these figures are likely to increase if the plan goes through. A Metro-North spokeswoman confirms that a park-and-ride at Yankee Stadium is being considered.

One expert on regional commuting thinks "park-and-ride lots are a wonderful thing," and a new one in the Bronx could be popular – after all, the lots at Shea Stadium have been well used by drivers transitioning to subways for years. "I think it's crazy to drive into Manhattan," says John Galgano, president of the nonprofit CommuterLink that helps metro-area commuters arrange carpools, vanpools and more.

Galgano said he empathizes with people who live near Yankee stadium, but "if it can reduce the number of people that are driving alone, or even carpooling ... I think it could only benefit everybody."

Some still doubt that commuters will use the facilities for this purpose, however. “It's very unlikely people are going to make changes in the middle or the end of their commute,” said Veronica Vanterpool, policy advocate for the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, which works to reduce auto use in the tri-state area and supports congestion pricing.

When asked about the risks of the garages becoming park-and-rides, Michael Murphy, spokesman for Bronx borough president Adolfo Carrion Jr. – who's a big supporter of the new stadium – said that since the garages will be located near highway exits, they will not affect residential traffic. Furthermore, Murphy said, commuters who would use the parking already drive through the Bronx anyway.

Despite this, many believe that air quality in the neighborhood would worsen if a park-and-ride situation were to occur. “The air quality damage from a car is far greater when you start it up – what is called a 'cold start' – and this is pollution that wouldn't be happening if these people were just barreling through on the highway,” said Lukas Herbert, a former member of the area's Community Board 4 who had been a vocal opponent of the new stadium.

City Councilwoman Helen D. Foster, whose Bronx district lies just north of the stadiums and whose support has been mixed, commented, "It's very interesting that the mayor and some elected officials are talking about asthma and the need for congestion pricing, but when they were voting for the building of the new stadium, their concern about asthma never came up.”

EDC spokeswoman Patterson defended the off-season parking by saying that it “addresses the community’s desire to have access to the facilities to reduce congestion from on-street parking that has not been previously available since the garages were not open on non-game days."

Congestion, already a major problem in the community, is said to be caused by the many people who work in the neighborhood rather than by local residents. According to state Sen. José M. Serrano, who represents the area, these commuters are currently more likely to use public transport because of the difficulty of finding somewhere to park if they came by car. Hence, it is likely that the availability of parking year-round would increase actual traffic coming to the neighborhood.

“Opening the parking lots will only create that parking lot effect outside of the zone that we want to avoid,” said Serrano, who favors congestion pricing but opposes opening the parking lots on non-game days. “So it's very important we don't create an environment that allows for that parking lot syndrome in poor communities of color that are already facing high asthma rates.”

The congestion pricing plan is not yet city policy. A commission on traffic mitigation was created by the state legislature in July following opposition to Bloomberg's plan. It's been holding public hearings through the fall and plans to issue recommendations on the topic by the end of the month. The commission released an interim report last week, and a public hearing is scheduled for Jan. 16 to discuss it. It analyzes the pros and cons of different congestion reduction plans: the Mayor's congestion pricing plan, an alternative one, a bridge toll plan and a license plate rationing system. All four have the common trait of increasing park-and-ride activity "adjacent to major transit hubs if measures are not taken by the City to manage parking." The plan has to be voted on, first by the City Council, then by state legislators, before March 31.

- Mathilde Piard

Thursday, January 10, 2008

"Yankee Funds for the Bronx in Limbo" Gothamist 1/7/8

Click the title to read the post with hyperlinks at Gothamist

January 7, 2008
Yankee Funds for the Bronx in Limbo

Back in 2006, an agreement signed the day construction started for the new Yankee Stadium promised the team would pay $1.2 million a year in cash and in kind to a fund benefiting Bronx residents for 40 years. It was a gesture to make up for the inconvenience during construction and loss of parkland the new stadium was costing the neighborhood. After a year and half, none of the money has been distributed - and it's unclear who will be distributing it, if ever.

The Yankees organization says it has nothing to do with the distribution of the annual disbursal. The agreement was signed without any community participation, just a Yankees representative and four elected officials: Bronx Borough President Adolfo Carrion Jr. and three Bronx Council members. None of them agreed to talk to The New York Times, but the paper did identify the acting chairman of the invisible panel: Serafin U. Mariel, who couldn't identify any members of the group that is overseeing the distribution of funds and admitted the group has never met. The group hasn't actually even registered as a charity with either the IRS or the state attorney general yet.

Mariel said, “It has taken some time to choose the advisory panel, but while some of that time has been lost, I don’t think any of the funding commitment will be lost.” That may be, but the Yankees' first year contribution was $800,000 in cash and $450,000 in free tickets and athletic equipment. We can't imagine that the Yankees organization will allow any donation of free tickets to accrue season after season. Mariel also said he'll be calling the mystery panel to get the ball rolling on distributing funds. Hmm - what are the odds this will happen before Bronx Beep Carrion's campaign for New York City Comptroller?

Separately, parking at the new Yankee Stadium will cost more than double, from $14 to $29, whether you're a fan or just someone who needs a space. The state is paying the parking garage owner $70 million in direct subsidies for construction and the city is paying more than $30 million to replace parks displaced by the new garages and lots.

Monday, January 07, 2008

"Stadium Goes Up, but Bronx Still Seeks Benefits" NY Times 1/7/8

Stadium Goes Up, but Bronx Still Seeks Benefits
Chester Higgins Jr./The New York Times
Published: January 7, 2008

Several years ago, as the Yankees negotiated to build a new stadium in the South Bronx, the neighborhood faced the realities of a massive construction project in its midst: parks would be closed and moved, traffic would be horrendous, life would be, for a while, a hassle.

So, as one way to make up for these inconveniences, the Yankees and elected officials signed a community benefits agreement. It required that the team would give roughly $1.2 million a year, starting when the work began, to various community groups through a special panel. The deal was similar to agreements in other major projects, like Atlantic Yards in Brooklyn and Columbia University’s expansion into Harlem.

But nearly 17 months after construction began, as workers race to complete the new Yankee Stadium by opening day 2009, none of that money has been distributed, and the group responsible for administering it has never met.

The seven-member panel also has not chosen a permanent chairman, registered as a charity with either the Internal Revenue Service or the state attorney general’s office, or selected recipients for $800,000 in grants or $450,000 in free tickets, merchandise and athletic equipment.

Elected officials have complained that they are in the dark.

“I feel embarrassed because I don’t know anything about what’s going on,” said City Councilman G. Oliver Koppell, who represents the northwest Bronx. Mr. Koppell had suggested that the Bronx council members meet to discuss the agreement. “I was involved when we negotiated it, but I have not been involved since. I urged that we have a Bronx delegation review, but nothing’s happened.”

The Yankees say the community groups will get all of the money that they agreed to give according to the community benefits agreement, or C.B.A., including the first 17 months’ worth, once the panel meets. Alice T. McGillion, a team spokeswoman, said that the money was in an escrow account and that the club was not responsible for the delays.

“Please ask Bronx Boro President’s office about any delays in the fund and advisory panel being set up,” Ms. McGillion wrote by e-mail. “As the CBA specifically states the fund and its establishment is independent from the New York Yankees.”

The Bronx borough president, Adolfo Carrión Jr., has been “too busy” for the past three weeks to discuss the stadium fund in an interview, said his spokesman, Michael Murphy. Last month, Mr. Carrión announced his candidacy for city comptroller in 2009. But Mr. Murphy wrote in an e-mail message that the process to release the money to community groups was moving along.

“There were many people deciding who would be the most appropriate candidates for the panel,” Mr. Murphy wrote, in explaining the delays. “It took time for people to look at the list and come to a consensus.”

The fund was part of the agreement and was to be established the day stadium construction started, Aug. 17, 2006, and distributed annually through 2046.

The agreements are enforceable by courts, but officials who normally ensure that the terms of a contract are carried out — such as the city comptroller — have no oversight because municipal money is not involved.

The agreement for Yankee Stadium was unusual, however, because it was not negotiated or signed by community members. It carries only the signatures of four elected officials, who said they were acting on behalf of the community, and a representative of the Yankees.

None of the officials who signed the agreement agreed to be interviewed for this article. The signatories were Mr. Carrión; Randy L. Levine, the president of the Yankees; and Bronx City Council members Maria Baez, Joel Rivera and Maria del Carmen Arroyo.

Mr. Murphy referred most questions related to the fund to the Yankees, or to the panel itself, but he would not disclose the names of its members, with the exception of the group’s acting chairman, Serafin U. Mariel.

Mr. Murphy would not say who had selected Mr. Mariel, 64, a Manhattan resident who is the former president and chief executive of New York National Bank.

Mr. Mariel, who, campaign finance records show, has donated to the candidacies of Mr. Carrión in the past, acknowledged that the group was far behind schedule. “It has taken some time to choose the advisory panel, but while some of that time has been lost, I don’t think any of the funding commitment will be lost,” Mr. Mariel said during a telephone interview last month.

“I am in the process now of arranging a meeting of panel members so they can meet each other and establish guidelines,” Mr. Mariel said.

Councilwoman Helen Diane Foster, who represents the High Bridge neighborhood and who opposed the stadium, said she had neither been briefed nor been asked for an opinion on the board. She said she had sent letters requesting information to Mr. Carrión and to council members Ms. Baez and Ms. del Carmen Arroyo without response. “I have no idea how people were selected to the panel,” she said. “It concerns me, but I’m also wise enough to know that a lot of people are hinging careers on how great this deal is, so I’m not surprised we haven’t had this conversation.”

However, Mr. Carrión’s spokesman, Mr. Murphy, said that the borough president was open to discussing the issue with other elected officials. “This process has been participatory since the beginning,” Mr. Murphy wrote via e-mail. “Every Bronx elected official can at any time address his or her concerns directly to the Borough President. He has an open door policy regarding addressing any concerns his colleagues might have.”

Thursday, January 03, 2008

"That new Yankee Stadium parking spot will cost double soon" Daily News 1/2/8

That new Yankee Stadium parking spot will cost double soon
Wednesday, January 2nd 2008, 4:00 AM

Yankee fans can expect to pay a whopping $29 for stadium parking during home games starting in 2010 - more than twice last year's $14 rate.

Those who want valet service will pay $40 - a sharp increase over today's $30 rate.

The projected hikes were revealed in the fine print of a $237 million Wall Street bond offering that the city Industrial Development Agency issued two weeks ago to finance the creation and refurbishing of nearly 9,000 parking spaces for the new stadium.

The basic game-day parking rates will jump to $17 this year, then to $19 next year, when the new $1 billion Yankee Stadium is slated to open.

The rates would then zoom to $29 in 2010 and would increase to $35 by 2014, according to a parking feasibility study that accompanies the bond documents.

"The rates ... are projections made by an independent consultant," said Janel Patterson, spokeswoman for the city Economic Development Corp. "They, therefore, do not necessarily reflect what the actual rates for the facilities will be."

The city's inclusion of the report in its official financing statement is meant to assure bond buyers that garage revenues will be sufficient for Bronx Parking Development LLC, the little-known group the city chose as developer, to pay off the bonds.

The main reason for the high rates is the astounding $340 million price tag for the project - three new garages, the refurbishing of half a dozen outdoor lots and the replacement of park land displaced by the new stadium.

The cost is $60 million higher than the city announced just eight months ago, when the IDA gave it preliminary approval.

In addition to the bonds, the garage project is receiving $70 million in direct subsidies from the state and $32.5 million from the city to pay for replacement parkland that will be situated over two of the garages.

Financial projections in the feasibility study show that even with the huge public subsidy and the higher game-day parking rates, revenues will be insufficient to permit the developer to pay full rent and taxes to the city until at least 2016.

So while the fans pay double for parking, taxpayers will receive virtually nothing for almost a decade from garages that public money helped build.

Meanwhile, the Yankees will be raking in huge amounts of cash from their spanking-new stadium next-door.

"Builders for lots, garages at new Yankee Stadium defaulted on prior bonds" Daily News 1/2/8

Builders for lots, garages at new Yankee Stadium defaulted on prior bonds
Wednesday, January 2nd 2008, 4:00 AM

The group that received $237 million in city-sponsored bonds to build garages and parking lots at the new Yankee Stadium is hardly an all-star of public financing.

Bronx Parking Development LLC lists as its "sole member" the nonprofit group Community Initiatives Development Corp., which defaulted on two previous tax-exempt bonds in the past 10 years, records show.

The first default - on $7.7million in tax-exempt bonds issued in 2002 by the Syracuse Industrial Development Agency to finance a senior citizens home - was revealed by the Daily News in October.

The second default was not widely known. It involved $5.6 million in bonds the Monroe County Industrial Development Agency issued in 1998 for CIDC to build and own a parking lot. "Such bond financing was structured similarly to the structure of the bond financing described herein," notes the bond document for the Yankees' garages.

CIDC, the document states, "subsequently defaulted on payments on the bonds and also on payment in lieu of tax payments in connection [with the garage]" and "voluntarily transferred" its interest in the Monroe garage to the bondholders on Jan. 1, 2007.

CIDC operates out of the upstate Hudson home of its president, William Loewenstein. The group reported deficits of $260,000 in 2005 and $517,000 in 2004 on revenues of about $2 million annually, tax filings show.

Loewenstein defended the city's choice of his group for the Yankees' project. "The city has retained professionals to run the project," he said.

Although his company is the sole private member of the Bronx Parking Development LLC, he noted, CIDC will have only two votes on the five-member management group. City Hall will control two votes, and the Bronx borough president will control the fifth.

"Taxpayers will fund Yankees' VIP parking, NYC gets less money" Daily News 1/2/8

Taxpayers will fund Yankees' VIP parking, NYC gets less money
Wednesday, January 2nd 2008, 4:00 AM

The Yankees and hundreds of their VIPs will get free valet parking for the next 40 years, courtesy of New York taxpayers.

The startling revelation of yet another subsidy for the richest team in baseball is buried deep in the fine print of a $237 million tax-exempt bond offering that city officials quietly issued the week before Christmas.

The documents say a $70 million state subsidy for parking improvements for the new Yankee Stadium (slated to open next year) has been earmarked for a new 660-car valet parking garage where virtually all the spaces will be reserved for the free, year-round use of the Yankees and their VIPs.

That's not the only shocking disclosure found in the 500-page bond document.

Others include:

The total cost of the parking expansion project has zoomed to $340 million - $80 million more than city officials announced only eight months ago, when the directors of the city Industrial Development Agency gave preliminary approval to the bond issue. The money is meant to pay for three new garages, refurbishing half a dozen open-air lots and replacing lost parkland due to construction.

Game-day parking prices for the general public will more than double from $14 last year to $29 in 2010. They could hit $35 by 2014.

In addition to 600 free valet parking spaces for the Yankees, 120 game-day parking spaces will be reserved for the free use of the private cars of city cops assigned to the stadium, and an additional 130 on nongame days for city vehicles on "official business."

When Mayor Bloomberg and former Gov. George Pataki announced their deal for the Yankees to build a new stadium in the Bronx back in 2005, the mayor guaranteed the city would receive at least $3.2 million in annual rent, plus payments in lieu of taxes from the parking facilities.

That revenue was to be the only direct income the city would receive from the entire new stadium project.

The money was meant to help repay the direct public subsidy to the garages - $32 million from the city, plus the state's $70 million. The city's expenditure is earmarked for new parks that will sit on top of two of the garages.

Even then, the promised revenue was substantially less than the $3.9 million the city is receiving as its share of current Yankees garage revenue.

Now that the bonds have been issued, we learn that the new garages will not generate enough money to provide full rent and taxes to the city until at least 2014.

That's according to the financial projections in a consultant study. The city included those projections in the bond documents but had not previously released them, despite several requests for a copy from the economic watchdog group Good Jobs New York.

"There may be periods during which excess cash flow could be insufficient to pay the city the full amount owed," Economic Development Corp. spokeswoman Janel Patterson acknowledged. "The amounts owed will not be forgiven, but will accrue interest at a compound annual rate ... until paid in full."

The balance sheet for the garages can't possibly be helped by the loss of more than 700 game-day spaces to the Yankees and the NYPD.

The bond offering says, "Parking Garage Site B will be funded exclusively from the State" [and] will have 600 spaces "reserved for use by the New York Yankees, its employees, guests, customers and other invitees and will not generate revenues."

That is double the number of free parking spaces Bloomberg announced for the team back in 2005. In addition, the garage operator must offer the team up to 900 additional parking spaces annually at an unspecified discount rate.

"The Yankees have no involvement with the garages," team spokeswoman Alice McGillion said yesterday.

Sure. And Manhattan has no involvement with the Brooklyn Bridge.

Any way you slice it, the Yankees and their luxury box VIPs will enjoy free, year-round valet service at what will essentially be the team's publicly financed private garage.

At an average $40-per-game valet parking rate, team executives can expect to save some $80 million from that sweet deal over the nearly 40-year life of the bonds.

Since Garage B is slated to be the only parking facility physically attached to the stadium, Yankees players will enjoy an added bonus.

They will no longer have to face adoring young fans waiting in the parking lot after the game in hopes of landing an autograph from their favorite hero.

Nothing but the best for the Bronx Bombers - and you pick up the tab.