NYC stadium mysteries revealed

Stop the clock! On Friday, 29 days after I e-mailed New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s office with three key questions about his Yankees and Mets stadium deals, I finally got a reply – not from City Hall, but from Warner Johnston, director of public information of the city parks department. Without further ado:

1) Can you confirm whether or not both the Mets and Yankees stadium
projects would go through ULURP [the city land-use process]? And if so, when is an EIS [environmental impact statement] expected to
be formally submitted?

The new Yankee Stadium will go through ULURP. It is anticipated that
the DEIS will be completed this fall. An EIS was completed for the Mets
site in 2001; the new project falls within the parameters analyzed in
this report, so the EIS is still valid. The legislation that that was
passed to allow for the original construction of Shea Stadium should
also allow for the construction of the new stadium. However, we do not
intend to move forward with the project without full participation from
the local community and elected officials.

TRANSLATION: Since I first sent this question, it’s become clear that the Yankees plan would go through ULURP – in fact, the first step in this process, a “scoping” hearing on the environmental impact statement, is scheduled for tomorrow (Monday) evening. (6 pm at the Bronx Museum on Grand Concourse and 164th St., for anyone interested in attending.) But that the city plans to construct a new Mets stadium under the legislation used to build Shea Stadium – which opened in 1964, eleven years before ULURP came into existence – is pretty stunning. I wonder if they’ll have to reconvene the Board of Estimate.

As for commitments to “full participation from the local community and elected officials,” that’s nice, but a far cry from ULURP, which requires the input of community boards and a series of public hearings.

2) The model provided by the Yankees clearly showed a new subway
entrance on the West Side of River Avenue and a relocated off-ramp from
the Macombs Dam Bridge. I know there has also been discussion of adding
a new Metro-North station to the area. Can you provide estimates of how
much these transit improvements would cost, and how they would be paid
for? And are any of these included in the $220 million in city and state
infrastructure improvements that were already announced?

The model presented at the press conference is a work in progress.
There will be a great deal of public outreach over the summer to get
feedback on the plan to help us to refine it, so it should not be
considered a finished design.

The proposed action does not include modifications to the existing
subway stations nor the addition of a new Metro North station. While
improvements to these facilities may be worth pursuing in the future,
our basic working premise, which will be studied in detail in the
environmental review process, is that the single largest infrastructure
challenge currently faced in the area is the lack of parking. The
current plan addresses this through the creation of nearly 5,000 new
parking spaces.

TRANSLATION: “Pay no attention to the transit costs behind the curtain.” Clearly Bloomberg and the Yankees have reached an agreement that the new commuter rail station and subway station renovations will be considered a separate deal that will go through the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s capital budget – whether because the mayor is unsure if they’ll be built or because he’s playing hide-the-subsidy is unclear. In any case, this explains the widely varied figures given for the public cost of transit improvements: $90 million, according to a Yankees official (as told to the Daily News), $20-30 million according to Andy Zimbalist (who wouldn’t divulge his source for this).

3) Mayor Bloomberg has said that both Shea Stadium and Yankee Stadium
would require “hundreds of millions of dollars” to maintain in coming
years. Can you provide an itemized list of these anticipated costs, or
at least the major items?

Both stadiums are getting very old and as with any aging building
require a lot of upkeep and maintenance. Each year, Parks Department and
the Department of Design and Construction make necessary repairs to
ensure the safety of all in attendance and to ensure that major
building systems, such as electric systems, plumbing, HVAC, etc., remain
functional. Furthermore, neither existing stadium meets contemporary
standards of accessibility for disabled fans, which is an important goal
for the City, Yankees and Mets.

Finally, both teams’ leases expire in December of this year. In our
discussions with both the Mets and Yankees, team representatives made it
clear that they desired facilities on par with other first class major
league baseball facilities located around the country. The cost of such
work would represent a major cost to the City of New York, so it was
decided that this funding would be better spent leveraging private
investment and through a public investment in other infrastructure
upgrades such as new parks and open space.

TRANSLATION: “No, you can’t have an itemized list.” More than that, though, it turns out that Bloomberg’s claims that the city would have to spend “hundreds of millions” of dollars on upkeep of the existing stadiums isn’t about upkeep at all – it’s the cost of meeting George Steinbrenner and Fred Wilpon’s wish lists for making their stadiums “first-class,” no doubt by adding luxury boxes, new concessions concourses, and so on. In other words, these are the projected costs of renovation – which, since the resulting improvements would boost team revenues, the teams themselves could reasonably be asked to pay for.

I’ve submitted a set of followup questions to my new pal Warner, and will report back here if I hear anything more. Clearly, though, the depths of Bloomberg’s latest stadium deals are far murkier than anyone could have imagined.

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2 comments on “NYC stadium mysteries revealed

  1. “Clearly Bloomberg and the Yankees have reached an agreement…” that a new Metro North station makes no freaking sense!!! And even if it did, why do you make it sound like going through the MTA capital plan is a sneaky, underhanded move? What other budget would you suggest it go through? This is a new low in your long list of half truths and misrepresentations.

  2. The issue isn’t whether it goes through the MTA capital budget, but whether it’s considered a cost of the stadium deal. Numerous sources say that the Yankees will get their Metro-North station (the subway renovation is less clear); if so, and if it’s not being included in the publicly stated costs, the environmental review process, etc., then that’s certainly sneaky, if not necessarily underhanded.

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