"The Long Buildup Before Teams’ New Building" NY Times 4/2/9
The Long Buildup Before Teams’ New Buildings
By RICHARD SANDOMIR
Published: April 2, 2009
The Yankees announced their intentions in the mid-1980s, regularly and loudly demanding a renovated home in the Bronx or a new stadium — and threatening to leave for New Jersey if the city failed them. The Mets came next, nearly a decade later, quietly seeking a replacement for Shea Stadium.
Plans were drawn and financing schemes proposed.
Mayors — including the Yankees fan Rudolph W. Giuliani — entered and left office.
But recessions intervened. The era of financing ballparks with massive infusions of public money faded. Costs rose. And George Steinbrenner’s indecision — would he keep his Yankees in the Bronx, ship them to Manhattan’s West Side or cross the river to New Jersey? — not only delayed making a deal for his team, but one for the Mets as well.
Meanwhile, 19 baseball teams opened new ballparks starting in 1990 — and only one major sports facility was built in the five boroughs in that period: Arthur Ashe Stadium in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, the legacy of a tennis-loving mayor, David N. Dinkins.
Before that, it was Madison Square Garden, which opened in 1968.
Building new stadiums in New York would prove to be as complex and difficult as developing other megaprojects, partly because of the scrutiny on high-profile ventures with public investment.
“Starting with the fiscal crisis in the 1970s, we starved the public sector in building all sorts of infrastructure except for the Javits Center,” said Mitchell L. Moss, a professor of urban policy and planning at New York University. He added, “Elected officials were afraid of them and communities were apprehensive of them.”
Still, there was no shortage of stadium plans, most of them for the fickle Yankees.
As the governor, Mario M. Cuomo proposed building a stadium and garage over the Long Island Rail Road yards on the West Side of Manhattan in 1993 and then, facing criticism, tacked weeks later to suggest a renovation of Yankee Stadium.
By 1996, Giuliani was pushing the West Side option as easy to finance, plus a new Mets stadium in Flushing — a double-barreled proposal that he felt would help a New York bid for the 2008 Summer Olympics. Over two terms, he offered three financing plans, all with the city paying about half the cost of the stadiums. None advanced.
Publicly, it appeared that satisfying the Yankees was the city’s and the state’s main priority. While Steinbrenner blustered about parking, safety, traffic and attendance in the Bronx, Fred Wilpon, the Mets’ principal owner, never looked to move beyond Shea’s parking lot.
“The Mets were on the radar,” Cuomo said. “I was talking to both teams, and it was my understanding that Fred should sit back and whatever the Yankees got would set a precedent for the Mets. He had nothing to lose. You couldn’t do them simultaneously, it would have been too much, so we concentrated on the Yankees.”
Jeff Wilpon, the Mets’ chief operating officer, said the Mets were not on a parallel track with the Yankees until the team submitted a proposal for a $457 million, 50,000-seat, retractable-dome stadium next to Shea, with an Ebbets Field-like rotunda, in 1995. “We weren’t looking for the same dollars as they were, but something equivalent,” he said.
In 1998, Giuliani’s plan to use the commercial rent tax to finance the city’s half-share in the stadiums — which died in a nasty political battle with the City Council speaker Peter F. Vallone — was followed days later by Fred Wilpon unveiling a model of his ballpark.
But neither Wilpon’s miniature stadium nor the Yankees’ second World Series championship in three seasons was capable of spurring ballpark construction.
Giuliani tried to leave office at the end of 2001 — three months after the Sept. 11 terror attacks — with a grand slam: a nonbinding proposal to split the $1.6 billion cost of two stadiums. But his successor, Michael R. Bloomberg, quickly canceled the plan as impossible during a recession, and once again the stadium issue turned dormant.
Jeff Wilpon said he is certain that absent the Sept. 11 attacks, Bloomberg would have proceeded with Giuliani’s plan and stadium construction would have soon begun.
Randy Levine, the Yankees’ president, said: “I realized the gravity of what was going on. There would be no direct city participation in the financing of the stadiums.”
The realization prompted the Yankees in 2004 to develop a financing plan that had as its centerpiece the shifting of revenue that would normally be shared with other major league teams to pay for largely tax-exempt bonds that would be issued by the city.
Here, the Yankees, in the city’s view, moved aggressively past the Mets. By the spring of 2005, Daniel L. Doctoroff, then the deputy mayor for economic development, said in an interview, “We were pretty close to a deal with the Yankees and nowhere with the Mets.” Wilpon said, “The Yankees kept moving on and we sort of held back.”
But the baseball stadiums needed a catalyst and got one unexpectedly through a third stadium: the $2.2 billion football complex that was being planned by the Jets on the same West Side site that Cuomo had once recommended to the Yankees.
The massive stadium was to double as an Olympic stadium if the city were chosen as the site for the 2012 Summer Games. But a state panel’s rejection of the stadium in June 2005 sent the Bloomberg administration and Olympic officials racing for an alternative to satisfy the International Olympic Committee before it named the 2012 host city.
They cast their eyes from Manhattan to Flushing, and, over a frantic few days, made a deal with the Mets for a ballpark that would expand to Olympic size in 2012 and contract afterward. The Mets had the deal whether the city got the Olympics or not.
“In three days we brought the Mets up to parity,” Doctoroff said. The Yankees got their deal done over the same period, partly because of how close it had been to completion, and also agreed to host the Mets during the Olympics, if necessary.
Levine said that even without the Jets/Olympic stadium’s demise, it would have taken little time to complete a Yankees deal. Wilpon agreed. “If they did deals for the Jets and Yankees,” he said, “what were they going to say, ‘You can’t have anything’? ”
The two stadium deals were announced in 2005 within three days of each other — and three weeks later the 2012 Summer Games were awarded to London.
Construction began in 2006 in Flushing and in the Bronx, and fans can now judge Bloomberg’s sports legacy: ballparks that cost their teams $2.3 billion but were made possible by almost $1.2 billion in city and state-funded infrastructure and tax breaks.