Yankees Claimed a Park; Children Got Bus Rides
By JIM DWYER
Published: October 23, 2009
Here are the final days of October. The new Yankee Stadium rocks with thrilling games. The Bronx kids who lost their parks for that new stadium travel the city for places to play.
“The Yankees gave us a bus — actually, they gave us $37,500 for a bus,” said Paul Krebbs, the president of All Hallows High School, just up the block from the stadium. “So now we can travel to Staten Island for our home games.”
Yankee Stadium is a kind of marker of civic values, and the end of the season is a good time to measure how those values have evolved. But it won’t be easy. More than most sports, professional baseball is marinated in the cheap liquor of nostalgia. People get drunk on it and lose their judgment. So this history cannot walk a straight line.
As mayor, one of Rudolph W. Giuliani’s jobs was to serve as landlord for the Yankees. Mr. Giuliani, who made his name as a corruption buster, was able to buy four World Series rings from the Yankees for about $16,000 — which might well be less than a fifth of their retail value. Who knows if he has bells on his toes to go with the rings on his fingers, but Mr. Giuliani promised the team a sweet deal on a new ballpark.
Then Michael R. Bloomberg became mayor and canceled the Giuliani arrangements. “Everybody understands that given 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 in 2002. “You have to set priorities, and the priorities this year do not allow for the construction of sporting stadiums.”
That moment passed. The Bloomberg administration proceeded to negotiate a new deal — turning over parkland for 40 years with no rent and no taxes, rebuilding streets and roads and a commuter rail station and letting the team use the city’s tax-free bonding capacity.
For a while, Mr. Bloomberg’s aides haggled with the Yankees to get a luxury suite for the city. Now, it should be noted that the luxury suite consisted of 12 seats, so to say that it was for “the city” falls a bit short of being strictly accurate. The suite would have been for someone, but not “the city,” if that in any way means ordinary citizens.
In exchange for the suite, “the city” — meaning, in this case, the public — would allow the team an additional 250 parking spaces and three new billboards.
This deal nearly fell apart when “the city” — well, Mr. Bloomberg’s aides — demanded that the luxury suite also be stocked with free food, like other suites, where the food is free as long as you pay the $600,000 annual rental.
The Yankees gnashed their teeth.
“It’s really ridiculous, but it sticks like a bone in everyone’s craw,” a Yankee negotiator wrote to the city economic development officials. “It’s a little unseemly to require ‘free’ food.”
What this meant, in plain Yiddish, was: Don’t shnorr the small stuff.
The shnorring — begging with chutzpah — took place in e-mail messages that were unearthed by Richard L. Brodsky, a Democratic assemblyman from Westchester. Once they were made public, the Bloomberg administration said it was changing its administrative mind.
It — meaning, presumably, Mr. Bloomberg, who could buy the entire stadium and team out of his pocket — did not really want the 12-seat luxury suite with the chicken wings. Instead, the Yankees should rent the suite on the commercial market, and the city should get the proceeds. Some of them, anyway: $100,000 is all that is guaranteed. The team is allowed to deduct marketing costs after paying that minimum.
It turns out that so far, not a penny in rentals from this season has been turned over for the city’s suite because it is not due until June, a spokesman for the mayor said Friday. So the actual value to the city is not yet known.
THERE are other, higher stakes. The new stadium sits on what had been city parkland that had been used by generations of schools, neighborhood teams and lone athletes.
The lost parks are being replaced by a group of handsome new ones, but that process is now expected to last until the end of 2011. This is no fault of the Department of Parks and Recreation, but the trailing consequence of decisions made by the city — that would be Mr. Bloomberg’s economic development team — to first shut down a public park so a profitable private company could build a stadium, and only then get around to replacing the lost park.
In the meantime, portions of the replacement parks are starting to open; they appear to be the first traces of what will be vibrant spaces, creatively designed.
When they are done, they will be a beautiful sight. But when they are done, the 14-year old kids who lost their parks in 2006 will be 19. That straight line doesn’t bend.