Friday, September 12, 2008

"Yanks land deal ain't fair ball" Daily News 9/12/8

Yanks land deal ain't fair ball
Friday, September 12th 2008, 1:56 AM
Juan Gonzalez

In January 2007, the city assessed land under the new Yankee Stadium at 10 times the market value of virtually all other land in the South Bronx neighborhood.

The assessment - not including the new ballpark - worked out to a fair market value of $275 per square foot. But a Daily News analysis of city property records shows that city assessors said land on a dozen blocks around the site was worth an average of less than $25 a square foot.

Among the most astounding disparities:

- The site of a VIP parking garage that will be connected to the new stadium: $20 a square foot.

- Land under the old Yankee Stadium: $16 a square foot.

- Land under the giant Gateway Center mall, currently under construction a few blocks south of the stadium: $9 a square foot.

Lawmakers in Washington and Albany are investigating whether city officials inflated the new stadium's land value to make it possible for the Yankees to pay back nearly $1 billion in tax-free bonds for the project.

U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio), head of a House subcommittee that oversees the IRS, will hold a hearing Thursday in Washington that is expected to focus on stadium finances.

Meanwhile, State Assemblyman Richard Brodsky (D-Westchester), who chairs the committee that oversees public authorities, will release an interim report next week on his Yankee probe.

Brodsky on Thursday called the city's assessment practices "inexplicable and disturbing," and vowed to "determine if the law and simple fairness were observed."

The investigations are coming to a head as the Bloomberg administration and the Yankees are fiercely lobbying the IRS for a waiver that would allow the team another $366 million in tax-free bonds to pay escalating costs of the new stadium.

The Yankees deal calls for the team to begin paying back its original bonds once the new stadium opens in April through the use of something called Payments in Lieu of Taxes. IRS rules say such payments can't be higher than the official tax on the property that is being financed.

In other words, the Yankees need the highest possible assessment to be able to make their huge debt payments.

This column reported on July 27 that a separate appraisal of the new stadium site done in 2006 - one the city commissioned and submitted to the National Park Service - claimed it was worth $46 a square foot.

"Our assessors jacked up the numbers and the justify the stadium bonds," a veteran Finance Department official said.

Assistant Finance Commissioner Sam Miller denied that allegation.

"Finance estimated the value of the new Yankee Stadium accurately and independently by using a standard cost approach for new construction, and by comparing the costs to other new stadia around the country," Miller said.

The Yankees declined to comment.


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