"For Stadium Seating, City Officials Demand Luxe" NY Times 9/15/8
For Stadium Seating, City Officials Demand Luxe
By DAVID M. HALBFINGER and FERNANDA SANTOS
Published: September 15, 2008
Rank has its privileges everywhere else — so why not here?
That was the thinking, to hear city officials tell it, that drove them to demand free luxury suites and first dibs on the best available seats at the stadiums being built for the Yankees and the Mets.
The perks, which were negotiated in 2006 but came to light only in July, have antagonized fans, who are being asked to swallow higher ticket prices in the new ballparks. And they have drawn fire in Albany and Washington.
“They’re subsidizing this gigantic increase in ticket prices, and they’re getting this luxury box for themselves? Gimme a break,” said Assemblyman Richard L. Brodsky, Democrat of Westchester, whose committee on public authorities is set to issue a report on Tuesday assailing the Yankees deal.
Mr. Brodsky said that the perks were negotiated in secret and that the city had yet to explain, despite repeated inquiries, why they were necessary and how they will be paid for.
The use of tax-exempt bonds to pay for the New York stadiums is being investigated separately by Mr. Brodsky and a Congressional subcommittee led by Representative Dennis J. Kucinich of Ohio, whose panel is also examining the perks obtained by the city and has scheduled a hearing for Thursday.
It is still unclear where the luxury suites will be located, how the perks will be distributed, and whether any public records will be kept of who uses them.
Besides the free suites, the city will be allowed to buy up to 145 tickets to every Mets home game and up to 180 to every Yankees home game. (For these, the city will pay face value but will be able to reserve its tickets at least a day before they go on sale to the public.)
The rates for suites at Citi Field, where the Mets will play, are $275,000 to $500,000 a year, and the Yankees are charging $600,000 to $850,000 at their new stadium, according to published reports.
The city’s economic development chief, Seth W. Pinsky, said he did not understand all the fuss over the deal.
“Why is that relevant?” he said.
Mr. Pinsky, president of the Economic Development Corporation, said suites for politicians were nothing new in New York or anywhere else. The city has one at Shea Stadium, as well as at the ballparks of the minor-league Brooklyn Cyclones and Staten Island Yankees.
But the city has never had a suite at Yankee Stadium. Yankees and Mets executives declined to comment for this article. One Yankees official, who insisted on anonymity to avoid repercussions, said the city got the new suite simply because “Dan Doctoroff demanded a suite, like every other city.” Mr. Doctoroff, who now runs Bloomberg L.P., did not respond to requests for an interview.
Mr. Pinsky, who reported to Mr. Doctoroff at the time, said Mr. Doctoroff did not say: “I want this because everyone else has this, whether or not it makes sense.’ I think what it was, was: It makes sense in these other places, it makes sense for us in the places where we have it, so why shouldn’t we also have it in these two stadiums?”
Mr. Pinsky also said that he and other negotiators “knew we were term-limited — recent events and speculation put to the side — so, at most, you’re talking about one year’s worth of personal benefit from this.” Mr. Pinsky is an appointee of Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, whose term is set to end next December but who has publicly flirted with overturning the term limits law so he can stay on.
Mr. Pinsky said the perks were meant to be used to entertain visiting dignitaries and to reward city workers, but that it would be up to the mayor’s office to set up a policy for how to dole them out and ensure that it wasn’t abused.
Nearly every other local or state government entity that has financed a stadium or arena in recent years has held on to a suite or some other perk for its officials. New York City’s perks fall roughly in the middle of lavish and meager.
Perhaps the most extensive package was negotiated by the District of Columbia Sports and Entertainment Commission, the builder of the $611 million Nationals Park in Washington: two suites, 25 field-level tickets and free parking; use of the stadium on 18 nongame days; and, in a populist stroke, a promise to make 250,000 regular-season tickets available to fans at no more than 75 percent of full price.
Mr. Pinsky said the city could not rent out its suites or resell its tickets, so the perks could not be converted to currency that could be used on something more laudable, like money “to run public schools in the South Bronx.”
Elsewhere, officials typically justify luxury suites as a unique setting for romancing potential business partners. But it takes unusual restraint for politicians to keep from using the perk with their pals, some team executives said anonymously for fear of angering those politicians.
“The legitimate reason is supposed to be to use it to market the city,” said the president of a team that built a palatial building with public money and turned over a suite to the politicians responsible. “But are they capable of it?”
If government-owned suites are nothing new, neither is outrage over the idea of officials living large at taxpayer expense.
The mayor of Denver in 2001, Wellington E. Webb, quietly agreed to exchange the “Mile High Stadium” trademark to the Denver Broncos for a 20-year lease, worth $1.7 million, on a suite at Invesco Field. The deal was voided after critics assailed it as an end-run around ethics and contracting rules.
In Arlington, Tex., meanwhile, Mayor Robert Cluck said he had “nothing in writing” but expected that the Cowboys would give the city a suite in their new stadium, when it opens next year. “I don’t think we should have demanded one,” he said. “We’re building it for economic development reasons.” Then again, he said, he would be unabashed in using it.
“Everybody has the opportunity to run for City Council or mayor,” he said. “Maybe that’s just a perk of the job.”