Friday, June 13, 2008

"New York State Assembly questions Yankee Stadium funding" Daily News 6/13/8

New York State Assembly questions Yankee Stadium funding
Friday, June 13th 2008, 2:07 AM

State lawmakers and fiscal watchdog groups cried foul Thursday over the Yankees' bid for another $350 million in public financing for their new stadium, saying it could soak up funds needed for parks and transportation.

Three state Assembly members from New York City called for a public hearing to examine a proposal to provide public support for one the richest franchises in sports.

"These sports teams are private companies that appear addicted to keeping their hands in the government cookie jar," said Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries of Brooklyn.

Jeffries and Assemblymen Ruben Diaz Jr. and Jose Peralta asked for a hearing on the use of public funds for the Yankees that they said were negotiated "in secret and without the control of elected officials" while other community projects are desperate for funding.

About $941 million in tax-exempt public bonds have already been issued for the $1.3 billion stadium that the Yankees are building across the street from their current ballpark in the Bronx.

Under current Internal Revenue Service regulations, the Yankees cannot ask for more public debt to be incurred for the stadium.

But city officials have been lobbying Washington for a change in IRS regulations that would allow the Yankees to get the $350 million in additional tax-exempt bonds they say they need. Such a change could help other big stadium projects — not just the new Yankee Stadium.

"The city along with the state as well as others have been working in Washington to seek relief from the applicable IRS regulations," said Seth Pinsky, president of the city Economic Development Corp.

Yankees president Randy Levine confirmed Wednesday that the Yankees were seeking additional bonding. A team spokesman said Thursday the Yankees had nothing to add.

The Yankees still plan to have the stadium completed by Opening Day 2009, regardless of whether they secure the additional funding.

The fact that the Yankees were seeking more financing didn't go down well with activists who questioned the need for a new stadium all along.

The Yankees' Opening Day payroll of $209.1 million was by far the highest in the Major Leagues. And when their new stadium opens next year it will be feature amenities like luxury suites, conference meeting rooms and a concierge service that should guarantee that the team's fans will be the richest in the majors as well.

Ticket prices will go up as well, with the team charging $500 to $2,500 for seats near home plate in the first five-to-eight rows of the new ballpark.

Critics of the stadium said other projects are more deserving of the money, such as transportation improvements, hospitals, schools, and the Hunts Point Market, America's biggest wholesale produce market, which is looking to leave New York if the city doesn't help rebuild its aging facility in the Bronx.

"I don't see why they should be allowed to use more tax-exempt bonds," said Neil deMause, co-author of "Field of Schemes: How the Great Stadium Swindle Turns Public Money Into Private Profit." ''There's no benefit to the city for this."

Geoffrey Croft, president of New York City Park Advocates, which unsuccessfully sued to block the new stadium because it required the razing of two city parks, said he welcomed legislative hearings into the Yankees' financing.

City economic development officials said they hope to persuade the IRS to rescind regulations against funding professional stadiums. The Yankees' proposal could lead to similar funding for the new Mets stadium and an arena for the NBA's New Jersey Nets, but could also apply to construction projects for other teams.

Assemblyman Richard Brodsky, who made the Yankee proposal public, said negotiations over the proposed IRS change have taken place in secret, but Pinsky said his agency has nothing to hide.

"The Yankees have informally approached us to seek some additional financing for their project," he said. "The reason nothing's been made public is that there is nothing to make public at this point."


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