"South Bronx residents cry foul as parks get Yanked for Stadium construction" NY Daily News 8/19/8
South Bronx residents cry foul as parks get Yanked for Stadium construction
BY IAN BEGLEY
DAILY NEWS SPORTS WRITER
Tuesday, August 19th 2008, 8:03 AM
Eddie Villadares Jr. met a group of friends at a field on 161st Street and Jerome Avenue, a few blocks from Yankee Stadium, to play pickup soccer on Saturday.
Villadares and his friends kicked the ball around the “field,” a parking lot that’s been converted to a temporary recreation area by the Parks Department, for half an hour before a United Youth Baseball League game forced the group to move their game to a small space in the outfield.
“We called everyone and thought we were going to be able to play a game here,” Villadares said. “It’s annoying because we never know when there’s going to be a game.”
The same players remember when they could just walk over to Macombs Dam Park and play for as long as they pleased. They were never interrupted in the large expanse across the street from Yankee Stadium, which included tennis courts, soccer and baseball fields and a running track.
But the park closed two years ago when workers broke ground for the new Yankee Stadium. So Villadares and his friends show up at 161st and Jerome and hope no teams come along to force them off the field. No luck on Saturday.
“Before, it was good because (Macombs Dam Park) was a big field and there was room for everyone,” Villadares said. “This isn’t as big and it’s usually crowded. It’s not the same as the other park.”
South Bronx residents lost 22 acres of parkland, in Macombs Dam and Mullaly Parks, when new Yankee Stadium construction began two years ago.
In accordance with state and federal law, the Parks Department plans to replace the acreage with new recreational sites in the area. But soaring costs, construction delays and what some have described as questionable planning have caused residents to cry foul, castigating city officials and the Yankees for taking away some of the most popular parkland in the community.
“The new Yankee Stadium will be a gated community with no benefit to the residents of the South Bronx,” said Joyce Hogi, a volunteer member of the Community Board 4 Parks Committee. “Our elected officials rolled over when the Yankees called and, as a result, the residents lost a beautiful park.”
The Yankees are building the new stadium on 22 acres of almost contiguous parkland, but the replacement sites, which range in size from 0.24 acres to 8.9 acres, are scattered throughout the South Bronx.
The cost for the replacement parkland is $174 million, an 82% increase over the original estimate of $95.5 million.
Plans called for all replacement parkland to be available by next year, but officials now say that construction on some sites has been delayed at least two years.
The existing Yankee Stadium site is slated to be converted into replacement parkland. Demolition of the Stadium is scheduled to start this winter, according to plans on the Parks Department Web site, but a spokeswoman for Rubenstein Associates, the firm representing the Yankees, said the team could opt to keep the House that Ruth Built standing for another two years.
All permanent replacement parkland is scheduled to be completed in 2011, according to the Parks Department, which means the South Bronx will be without some athletic fields for at least five years.
In the interim, the city has set up a temporary replacement park on a parking lot next to the Stadium. It also has refurbished a baseball field at PS 29, one mile from the original park, and has built a ballfield and recreation center on 172nd St., nearly 1 1/2 miles from the original park.
As they wait for the promised parks to be completed, some residents who used Macombs Dam and Mullaly Parks are struggling to find play space in the often overcrowded recreation sites.
Tony Melendez, director of the United Youth Baseball League, said he’s had to scale back the number of teams in the league and scramble to find new fields since Macombs Dam Park closed in 2006. The league played a majority of its games at Macombs Dam Park and nearby Franz Sigel Park.
“It’s made it very difficult,” Melendez said. “I’ve had to get permits for so many new fields.”
The nonprofit organization NYC Park Advocates released a report in May that alleges the city passed off existing space as replacement parkland and inflated the acreage when it promised a net increase of 2.14 acres of recreational space in the original plans.
Geoffrey Croft, president of the group, said the Parks Department’s assesment includes a .71-acre walkway through a parking lot — space that serves no recreational use. The report called the decision to build the new stadium as proposed an “irresponsible abuse of the environmental review procedures, (one that) cost one of the city’s poorest communities its sorely needed parkland.”
“It was clear that at every stage of the process, the communities concerned were placed last, while the concerns of the New York Yankees - a privately owned organization - were placed first when it came to the future of the parks and the surrounding neighborhood,” the report’s authors concluded.
Bronx Sports asked the Parks Department to address these points in a series of questions emailed to the office last week, but a department spokeswoman issued a blanket response.
“No great urban development project comes without a temporary inconvenience to the community,” the spokeswoman wrote in her e-mail. “We thank Bronx residents for dealing with the inconveniences associated with the construction of new parks in the vicinity.”
Spokeswomen for Borough President Adolfo Carrion and Councilwoman Maria del Carmen Arroyo (D-South Bronx) did not respond to a list of questions emailed to their offices last week.
The Yankees will play in front of more than 4 million people as the team wraps up its final season at the old Stadium. The Yanks and their fans eagerly await the opening of the new Stadium, which, at a cost of $1.3 billion will be the most expensive professional sports arena in American history.
But some South Bronx residents find little reason to cheer the construction as they continue to countenance the consequences: small parcels of replacement parkland, spread throughout the neighborhood, which fail to offer the same recreation opportunities residents enjoyed at the closed parkland.
“I really haven’t been able to use the park as much as I had planned this summer,” said Michael Pimentel, a neighborhood resident who found space to play baseball with a few friends at PS 29 on Saturday. “It’s usually either crowded or there’s a baseball game, so there’s no room to play.
“Since this is the closest park, I guess I have to be content with this, but I think (the new parks) have been worse in a way,” he added. “There’s not much space in the neighborhood in the first place, so when they took away (Macombs Dam Park) it made it worse.”