"A New Yankee Stadium, the Same Old Politics" NY Times 1/13/9
A New Yankee Stadium, the Same Old Politics
By JIM DWYER
Published: January 13, 2009
These may be the last days that officials in New York can make decisions about how much more help the city will give the Yankees baseball company to finish its new stadium in the Bronx — a building with a steakhouse, a museum, more private suites and fewer ordinary seats than the old stadium, protected by moats of garages and privilege.
On Tuesday, the comptroller said the city had made a bad deal, a complaint that the mayor’s office dismissed as “political posturing.”
Without a doubt, politics is part of the invisible cost benefit analysis of the Yankees and Mets stadium deals — not only for those who now criticize them, like the comptroller, William C. Thompson Jr., who approved them in 2006, but also for those few who champion them, like Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg.
Such political values may not turn up on any public balance sheet, but it would be unwise to ignore them simply because they are invisible.
Suppose you are Mr. Bloomberg, your hopes of becoming president or vice president all but vanished. You have to step down as mayor in 2009 because a law that you unequivocally supported says you only get two terms.
How handy, then, to have powerful allies, like the developer, Jerry I. Speyer and the lobbyist, Howard Rubenstein, to convince other influential people that term limits will deprive the city of an essential leader during an era of financial crisis.
Mr. Speyer is building Yankee Stadium. Mr. Rubenstein represents the Yankees. Their stated case for Mr. Bloomberg never rested on the mayor’s support for the stadium, but on his qualities as a manager and their view that he would be the most capable steward of the city during hard economic times.
Mr. Bloomberg not only abandoned his own emphatic support for term limits, but his own opposition to corporate welfare for professional sports. After canceling deals made by his predecessor, Mr. Bloomberg has gone on to subsidize the most expensive baseball stadiums in the country.
The balance sheet should reflect that Mr. Bloomberg’s advocacy of the stadiums came well before he revealed that he wanted a third term in office. Moreover, his administration argues that these new deals are different and better than those made by Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani — that they will cost the city little and pump money and jobs into the Bronx.
“The Yankees are paying for the entire construction of the new stadium — the plasma television screens and all,” David Lombino, a spokesman for the city’s Economic Development Corporation, wrote in an e-mail message that took exception to a column I wrote last week about the deals. “The more expensive stadium they build, the more debt they take on and the more money they must pay back.”
The Yankees are indeed paying off the tax-exempt bonds that will finance the bulk of the stadium construction, but they are doing so instead of paying property taxes.
Moreover, the claims that the Yankees are paying for the entire construction — trumpeted throughout the process — rests on an illusion achieved through precision language.
There is far more to building a stadium than simply its construction. To replace the 22 acres of parkland the city turned over to the Yankees, to build sewers and roads that will support the stadium, the city will spend $325 million — money that will be borrowed by the taxpayers, leaving that much less for other public projects.
With interest, that $325 million could come to $700 million, an aide to Mr. Thompson said. The city must also pay to tear down the old stadium, a cost now put at $27 million. It is contributing $39 million toward a new Metro North station. (The Metropolitan Transportation Authority is paying another $52 million.)
Both Mr. Bloomberg and his predecessor, Mr. Giuliani, even gave the Yankees and the Mets a $5 million annual rebate on rent the teams were paying to the city for their old stadiums — money that could have restored at least some music programs to public schools, but instead was turned back to the baseball teams for the explicit purpose of planning ballparks that the public is paying for.
The Yankees have already received $942 million in tax-exempt financing; the team has come back for another $370 million. A hearing on the latest request will be held on Thursday at the Industrial Development Agency, which is run by nine representatives of the mayor, plus the five borough presidents and the city comptroller.
The city is proud of the deal, officials say, because it will create “1,000 permanent new jobs.” If you scratch into the official filings, it turns out that there are actually only 22 new full-time jobs expected. The rest are seasonal positions — valuable, certainly, but only if they really exist.
And what if the team doesn’t create 1,000 new jobs? Does the city have any mechanism to hold the team accountable, to get back some of its investment?
Asked about this on Tuesday, Mr. Lombino, the spokesman for development corporation, said there is none.
It seems only prudent — honest, even — to move the promise of 1,000 new jobs onto the balance sheet of the invisible.