Monday, May 26, 2008

"Time and Cost Rise for Yankee Stadium Parks" NY Times 5/25/8

Time and Cost Rise for Yankee Stadium Parks

Published: May 25, 2008

The cost of replacing two popular parks where the new Yankee Stadium is being built has nearly doubled. At the same time, several of the eight new parks, which were supposed to be completed before the new stadium opens next spring, have been delayed by as much as two years, according to city documents.

The price of the new small parks — which are to replace tennis and basketball courts, a running track and baseball and soccer fields eliminated to make way for the new stadium — is now projected to be $174 million, almost one-seventh the cost of the $1.3 billion stadium itself. The original estimate had been $95.5 million. The increase comes amid skyrocketing costs for construction projects, both public and private, around the city.

The stadium is being financed by the Yankees with city subsidies, while the eight new parks for the South Bronx, which range in size from 0.24 acre to 8.9 acres, are being paid for by the city.

None of the replacement parks have been completed, and construction on several has not yet started; however, the parks department has built a temporary replacement park on a parking lot in the area, opened a ball field this spring at a school almost a mile to the east, and is building a sports field at a recreation center about a mile to the north.

The city was required to build the new parks after it selected the 28.4-acre Macombs Dam Park and a portion of the 18.5-acre John Mullaly Park as the site of the new stadium in 2005. State and federal law dictated that a similar amount of parkland nearby of equal or greater fair market value be built to replace the parks that would be lost.

Some residents have been critical of the trade-off. While Macombs Dam and Mullaly Parks were almost contiguous stretches of grass and trees amid the concrete topography of the South Bronx, the replacement parks are small parcels scattered around the area. The sites include sports fields atop a planned stadium parking garage and a park along the Harlem River, which is on the opposite side of the Major Deegan Expressway.

The parks department has predicted a net increase of 2.14 acres of parkland in the swap, to 24.56 acres from 22.42 acres. But that has failed to quell some local disappointment.

“We’ve lost our biggest park, and what we’ve been reduced to is this parking lot,” said Anita Antonetty, 51, a South Bronx resident, referring to the temporary park at Jerome Avenue and East 161st Street. “We lost hundreds of trees that were 80 years old, and now there’s this monstrosity of cement across the street from where people live.”

The parks department gave the $95.5 million cost estimate for the replacement parks as part of the city’s final environmental impact study for the stadium project in August 2006.

In March, Adrian Benepe, the parks commissioner, told the City Council parks committee that the figure had climbed to $190 million. Last week, Jama Adams, a department spokeswoman, put the cost estimate for the replacement parks at $174 million — about $16 million less than Mr. Benepe’s figure — but said that it might continue to grow. She said Mr. Benepe had spoken “off the top of his head.”

The estimated cost of the replacement parks now almost matches the amount the parks department has spent building and refurbishing parks and recreation centers throughout the Bronx over the past six years. Since 2002, the agency has spent $178 million on parks and recreation centers in the borough, according to department figures.

Parks officials said the cost of the replacement parks had risen because of a series of unforeseen circumstances, including the discovery of buried oil barrels beneath one of the future parks and construction costs that have been rising 1.5 percent each month.

“This increase to city funds covers conditions we have recently encountered that simply could not be anticipated beforehand,” the department said in a May 12 report provided to The New York Times.

As part of a further explanation, Ms. Adams wrote in an e-mail message that “construction costs have continued to increase at a rate beyond what we anticipated, we have added new aspects to our projects, and we have learned new things about the sites that have affected our design and infrastructure work.”

Ms. Adams added that the cost of building the stadium had also increased, by about 60 percent, although Yankees officials have said the stadium will be completed on time next spring, even if the replacement parks are delayed.

Mr. Benepe declined to be interviewed for this article. Ms. Adams said it was typical for costs to increase as projects proceed from the design stage.

The parks department attributed the delays of as long as two years for the replacement parks to “unforeseen site conditions and new design aspects.”

The delays mean the neighborhood will go at least five years without some of its sports fields: Stadium construction in Macombs Dam Park started in 2006, and the permanent replacement park will not be completed until 2011.

The Bronx borough president, Adolfo Carrión Jr., a supporter of the stadium project and the parks plan, said through a spokeswoman that he was briefed monthly by the parks department.

“As of today, the project remains on schedule,” the spokeswoman, Anne Fenton, said in an e-mail message last week. “We have made sure that the parks department is meeting on a regular basis with the community and addressing any concerns.”

But opponents of the stadium project said they are not surprised by the problems surrounding it.

“The real emphasis was on building a stadium for the Yankees, and the community and the parks were an inconvenient afterthought,” said Christian DiPalermo, executive director of New Yorkers for Parks, an advocacy group. “The Yankees couldn’t miss a season, but it was O.K. for the community to miss five years of parkland and be shut out of a community benefits agreement.”

Under a community benefits program agreement between the Yankees and Bronx elected officials, intended to help mitigate the effects of the stadium construction, Bronx charities were to receive $800,000 annually once construction started. But only $11,500 of that money has been distributed so far, according to the group that administers the fund.

The temporary park at Jerome Avenue and 161st Street was meant to provide a measure of tranquillity and recreational space as the stadium construction opened last spring, but it was almost a year behind schedule, according to city documents. Now heavily used, it will be paved over for a stadium parking garage once the replacement parks are finished.

With the exception of Heritage Field, a park planned for the grounds of the existing Yankee Stadium, the city said in its 2006 environmental impact report that the replacement parks would be ready by next year.

“By 2009, all of the replacement parkland and recreational facilities would be constructed,” the report stated. Residents said parks officials told them at the time that the parks would be finished by April 2009, in time for opening day at the new stadium.

But the department now says that much of the work will not be finished until almost a year later, including a park that will house a permanent 400-meter running track, four basketball courts, a combination soccer and football field and eight handball courts.

Heritage Field, which will have three sports fields, has also been delayed nearly a year — from December 2010 to the fall of 2011. The park is expected to cost $50 million, a figure that includes the demolition of the existing Yankee Stadium, the parks department said.

Work on two other replacement parks — each smaller than a half-acre — which had been scheduled for completion by October 2007 will not begin until next month, the parks department said.

Another replacement park, a 5.8-acre parcel on the Harlem River waterfront that is expected to cost $56 million to build, was also scheduled to be finished by last October, but will not open until sometime in the winter of 2009, the department said.