Thursday, February 18, 2010

The new Yankee Stadium is built, but where are the promised ballfields for kids?ยจ Daily News 2/17/10

The new Yankee Stadium is built, but where are the promised ballfields for kids?
Juan Gonzalez - News

Wednesday, February 17th 2010, 4:00 AM
One of the big questions Yankees manager Joe Girardi must decide before the end of spring training in Tampa Bay is whether Curtis Granderson or Brett Gardner will be the team's new centerfielder on Opening Day.

But in the snow-draped streets around Yankee Stadium Tuesday, South Bronx residents had a more pressing question: where are the ballfields for their kids?

Three and a half years after Mayor Bloomberg closed huge portions of Mullaly and Macombs Dam parks to make way for the Yankees new $1.5 billion stadium, the replacement ballfields the city promised are nowhere to be seen.

It has been nearly 18 months since the last game was played in the old stadium. Yet its concrete hulk still looms like a gray ghost across the street from the Yankees new palace.

Shea Stadium, in case anyone has forgotten, came tumbling down in fewer than eight months. It was leveled quickly because the Mets needed the land for parking.

But when it comes to the old Yankee Stadium, the demolition crews have taken their sweet time. Until the old stadium is razed, the city can't even begin construction of Heritage Field, a complex of three replacement ballfields for the community.

No one in authority seems to care about this huge delay. Not the bureaucrats in City Hall. Not the Parks Department. Not the Yankees. Not the local politicians.

Back in late 2006, when U.S. District Judge Naomi Reice Buchwald rejected a challenge to the stadium plan by local residents, she noted that the city was replacing all parkland with new permanent park facilities.

"Nearly all [of those facilities] will be operational by the time the new Yankee Stadium opens in 2009," the judge said in her decision, "and the remaining three ballparks to be located on the existing Yankee Stadium fields will become accessible by 2010."

This was all a lie.

Virtually all of the replacement facilities are way behind schedule and dramatically over budget. A track and soccer field did open last spring on top of one of the Yankees parking garages, but not the basketball and handball courts that were supposed to accompany it.

Portions of a new park and outdoor tennis courts were inaugurated along the Harlem River in November - just in time for winter. But a huge new tennis clubhouse, cafe and community facility have not been finished. Nor has a toddler park, a skateboarding park, a full esplanade for the public, and a sand beach along the river - all of which were promised.

Many of these will open this spring, David Lombino, a spokesman for the city's Economic Development Corp. said Tuesday.

As for the baseball and little league fields, any work on them will have to wait until the old stadium comes down.

"Demolition should be finished by June," Lombino said, while the new community ballfields "should be ready sometime in late 2011."

If Lombino is right, those baseball fields will finally be replaced more than five years after the original ones were taken away from the youth of the community.

Somehow, Yankee Stadium was built on schedule. So were the huge parking garages around it. So was the new Metro-North station.

Only the replacement parks for the community have suffered these delays. As for the politicians in the Bronx, they must all be waiting for their Yankees tickets.