"Tear Down Stadium and Build Up the Bronx" NY Times 1/21/9
Tear Down Stadium and Build Up the Bronx
By HARVEY ARATON
Published: January 24, 2009
Months after its rousing and official farewell, old Yankee Stadium stands strong, proud and in one piece, shuttered but not altogether silenced.
Twenty-two days until pitchers and catchers, its message board atop the outer wall reminded passers-by last week — one day before the Yankees finally left the building. Humble sorts they are, they made a publicized show of an administrative schlep across the street Friday that was months overdue, like the demolition of a ballpark so beloved that it almost sounds sacrilegious to ask, why is it still here?
A civic conscience trumps sentimentality, however. Enough is enough. To paraphrase Ronald Reagan: Tear down this stadium, Mr. Bloomberg!
“That’s going take at least two years because the city’s priority is the Yankees, not the neighborhood,” said Joyce Hogi, a member of the Community Board 4 parks committee.
She and her colleagues fought a long, losing battle of preservation best evidenced by two stadiums at the expense of cherished parkland, to be replaced here and there and on terms mostly beneficial to a private enterprise already worth in excess of $1 billion. All while the old and the new stand side by side, towering over what is commonly called the nation’s poorest Congressional district like some supersize baseball mall.
From the press office of the mayor, Michael R. Bloomberg, we received the city’s estimated timetable of 16 months — or spring 2010 — for the dismantling of the old stadium, as well as explanations of why it has yet to begin (without a demolition company even chosen by the city).
PART I “The primary reason Yankee Stadium has not started demolition is that the new stadium and its offices have just now become available for occupancy.” But if New York schoolchildren can learn in trailers when there is a shortage of building space, why couldn’t the Yankees have conducted business in a temporary shelter for a few short months to expedite the demolition process?
PART II “The demolition of Yankee Stadium, with a lot of adjacent construction, utility work and proximity to the elevated subway structure, requires a complicated public procurement process.” But if demolition is so complicated, how has Shea Stadium — not as cramped but similarly flanked by a new stadium and an elevated subway — been largely flattened, piece by piece, since October, with the job expected to be completed next month?
Hogi’s point about construction priorities is one that cannot be hammered home enough. When it is in the baseball team’s interest to demolish a stadium so there will be enough parking by opening day, the old ballpark can’t come down soon enough. When the existing stadium site has been designated for replacement park baseball fields, the community can wait — in the case of Heritage Field on the existing old Stadium site, until at least fall 2011, or three years after the last major league pitch.
We have heard many 11th-hour lamentations lately about tax-free bonds and infrastructure costs, about sweetheart deals handed to baseball teams when the city is swimming in the red ink of recession. No question, the entire business of public spending on pro sports has been sordid, and not just in New York. In New Jersey, state government can’t slash budgets fast enough while hundreds of millions in public money pour into Meadowlands infrastructure that will be used by the Giants and the Jets to bilk their most loyal fans.
These aren’t the first megadeals cut by politicians that do not pass the smell test, but nobody has been swindled like the Yankee Stadium community. Nothing has been taken that can’t be replaced except the centralized parkland the Yankees have wanted since they remodeled the old place in the mid-1970s and hung a blue sign on the fence of Macombs Dam Park that said: We Do Care.
Having long ago learned that slogans are much cheaper than sympathy, now there is one on the River Avenue side of the new stadium. Building the Future of the Bronx, it says. All that is missing is Bombers after Bronx. The community’s future is parkland in piecemeal, with taxpayers picking up the ever-escalating tab.
The city and the Yankees say the area will benefit in economic development. Hogi said: “The Yankees have been there for 80 years and what’s been developed? The only thing they are building now is a fortress so the people coming in will never have to step foot in the neighborhood.”
Hogi lives on the Grand Concourse, where she said drawn shades aren’t enough to dim the nighttime light emanating from the new stadium, blocks away. She works at All Hallows High School on 164th Street, where she has watched sports teams load onto buses to play home games in the East Bronx. She cringed last summer at the sight of children jammed into an interim park on 161st Street and Jerome Avenue, while two stadiums cast long shadows on narrow streets, the epitome of Yankees shock, arrogance and awe.
The community should not have to endure another two-stadium summer. Old Yankee Stadium should not be harder to take down than Barry Bonds. Do something about this, Mr. Mayor. Tear down this landmark now.