Monday, January 12, 2009

"At the New Yankee Stadium, Sanity Rides the Bench" NY Times 1/9/9

At the New Yankee Stadium, Sanity Rides the Bench
Published: January 9, 2009

Suppose a public school wanted some nice new things.

Things like a 60-inch plasma television for every class, a dining room outfitted with leather banquettes and linen tablecloths, and an emerald green playing field.

Suppose, also, that the school already had working televisions, a lunchroom with folding tables that could be cleaned with a sponge, and a big asphalt play yard.

The only sane response, of course, is that buying the deluxe items should be postponed until the day every school had textbooks less than 20 years old, or when high schools did not have to drop history electives because of budget cuts, or that science labs and band rooms were equipped with the right tools and teachers.

Even in times of great prosperity, the city could scarcely provide these modest basics. Now, beyond all sense or sensibility, the New York Yankees have appeared with a request for $370 million in new taxpayer-backed financing for a new baseball stadium that will open in April.

This is more. New. In addition to. On top of the $942 million in previous financing, and $660 million that the city is pitching in to replace parkland sacrificed for the new stadium and transportation improvements.

What is the team going to spend the new $370 million on?

Here are some items on the submission filed with the city’s Industrial Development Agency: $10.5 million for “suite level upgrades,” and $5 million more for “public washroom upgrades,” and $1.1 million to “upgrade suite seats, field seats” and areas where disabled fans will sit.

For a better sound and television system in the building, new mounts and screens, a video system and scoreboard, they want $34 million. And $3.9 million for “extensive cabling necessary to accommodate multiple, domestic and international broadcasters.”

To enclose the press box and build a dining room for employees, they’re going to spend $3 million. They also plan to spend $137 million for “food and beverage build out.”

“The new Yankee Stadium will house a prime steakhouse, a Hard Rock Cafe, a baseball-themed museum, various retail stores and a banquet, conference and business center,” the Yankees said in the filing.

In 2002, soon after Michael R. Bloomberg became mayor, he announced that he was canceling stadium deals made in the last hours of the Giuliani administration.

“At the moment, everybody understands that given that the lack of housing, given the lack of school space, given the deficit in the operating budget, it is just not practical this year to go and build stadiums,” Mr. Bloomberg said.

“You have to set priorities, and the priorities this year do not allow for the construction of sporting stadiums.”

The city is now in much worse shape. Every agency that serves the public is being cut.

How is it that Mayor Bloomberg wants the public to help a professional sports team — which just announced that it has given three ballplayers contracts worth about $500 million — pay for a Yankee steakhouse and televisions in luxury suites using bonds that will save the team tens of millions of dollars in interest?

The Yankees and the city argue that the public will ultimately clear $280 million from the entire deal, a figure questioned by many economists. “The construction of the new Yankee Stadium is a huge triumph of public policy and private sector initiative,” a spokeswoman for the team owners said earlier this week.

The city’s central rationale is that the Yankees are going to pay off the bonds issued by the development agency. But they are doing that instead of paying property taxes.

“It’s like building a new house and telling the local tax collector that you’ll pay him, but the money has to go to pay off your mortgage,” said Richard L. Brodsky, an assemblyman from Westchester who has pried open many details about the stadium deal. “It’s an upper-class Ponzi scheme.”

Members of Mr. Bloomberg’s administration fought like tigers to get a free luxury suite with 12 seats for the use of city officials, haggling so that chicken wings were included. In exchange, the team demanded, and got, 250 additional parking spots and the income from three highway billboards.

With that part of the deal done, a team lawyer, Steve Lefkowitz, issued an invitation for opening day to Seth W. Pinsky, the head of the city agency in charge of the negotiations.

“Yes, I think I’ll be sitting in a box seat!” Mr. Pinsky wrote on Aug. 25, 2006. The city and the Yankees undid the suite deal, a little bit, last week.

When New York goes through a drought, it is the custom to shut down public fountains, like those in front of the Metropolitan Museum of Art — not because they use all that much water, but because the dancing towers of water give the illusion of abundance.

They just turn off the spigots.



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