It ain’t over till it’s over

The New York city council held its long-awaited, already-once-delayed public hearing on the Yankees stadium plan today, and was met with a standing-room-only crowd in the main council chambers, with anti-stadium Bronx residents and pro-stadium construction workers bunched on either side of the aisle like the bride’s and groom’s sides. For those who showed up, a lot of quality butt time was in store, as the land use subcommittee on planning, dispositions and concessions didn’t get around to taking public testimony for more than three hours. And a half hour later, subcommittee chair Dan Garodnick sheepishly announced that someone else needed the room, and the entire hearing would have to move across the street to a hearing room that held only about 50 people. By the time things resumed, the entire press corps (yours truly excluded) had gone home.

The preceding three hours had been taken up with testimony by the city parks department, the Yankees, and Bronx borough president Adolfo Carrion, none of whom divulged anything that hadn’t been said at previous hearings. The closest thing to excitement came when Yanks president Randy Levine sat down at the witness stand accompanied by former Yankees great Reggie Jackson – and immediately started things off by showing a promo video of Yankees players talking about how much their employer means to the Bronx, a spectacle that several councilmembers, and even Yanks pal Carrion, judged to be “insulting.”

While there was plenty of distrust for the Yankees in evidence, though – no one’s forgetting this is the franchise that once employed an exec who called local Bronx kids “monkeys,” and Bronx rep Helen Diane Foster compared the Yanks’ past dealings with its home borough to an “abusive relationship” – what was less clear was what councilmembers expect to ask from the Yankees in exchange for approval of the plan. Both Foster and fellow Bronx councilmember Maria del Carmen Arroyo focused mostly on getting assurances that more money would be available to refurbish other Bronx parks; Manhattan rep Melissa Mark Viverito was the only questioner to ask how much the stadium’s tax-exempt bonds would cost the public. (Kei Hayashi of the city’s Industrial Development Agency insisted that, as the bonds wouldn’t exist without the stadium, making them tax-free wouldn’t cost the city anything. Viverito looked perplexed by this response, but didn’t pursue the matter further.)

As for what the council will do, we likely won’t know until April 5, when both the subcommittee and then the full council will vote on giving land-use approval to the stadium project. But even that won’t be the final word: The council still must approve the convoluted financing plan as well, and on April 7 the council finance committee will meet from 9 am to 3 pm to hash that out. Among the items to be explained then: Why the city’s infrastructure costs are now up to $160 million in the current plan (as Josh Laird of the city parks department divulged today), up from $135 million previously.

Meanwhile, even that may not be the final say on the Yanks deal. Today’s Metro New York has more on the federal parks regulations that I discussed in the Village Voice earlier this month, including this from the man in charge of implementing them:

City Parks Department spokesman Warner Johnston said “a final determination is expected” by May 1.

“It’s entirely unlikely something will be approved by then,” said Jack Howard, LWCF manager at the National Park Service. Howard is still waiting on the state’s proposal.

“This is not a rubberstamp process,” Howard said. “Some conversions are simple; others can take a year to garner final approval. There could be a lot of public controversy or other things that may come into play that will adversely impact that proposed action.

“We are aware of what’s going on, but there are no shortcuts. We have a responsibility to follow the law.”

When Yogi’s right, he’s right.


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