Okay, so turns out the suspense didn’t amount to much after all. This morning, as an overflow throng of Bronx residents and construction workers sat waiting in a City Hall hearing room, staring out the windows at a freak spring snowstorm, the New York city council huddled behind closed doors for two hours to decide beforehand how the vote would go on the Yankees‘ $1.2 billion stadium project. The answer when the council finally emerged: The stadium’s land-use plan was swiftly approved (or at least, swiftly after much speechifying by councilmembers) by a 44-2 vote, with two abstentions.
The reasons given for supporting the plan by councilmembers – nearly all of whom gave nods to the “community concerns” over the project – were all over the map, from fears that the Yankees would leave town to the desire to “revitalize” the Bronx, and many sounded unconvinced even by their own words. Inez Dickens asked: “Is it the answer to all [the community concerns]? Absolutely not. But there must be a beginning somewhere.” The project “will bring 18 acres of parkland to the Bronx,” enthused council chair Christine Quinn, carefully not mentioning the 22 acres of parkland that would be displaced. Gale Brewer gave a speech detailing the dangers of trusting corporations to live up to community benefits agreements, and decrying the rushed taking of parkland last summer, then voted yes anyway. And Tony Avella, who’d penned a strongly worded letter on Friday detailing the many reasons he was opposing the stadium deal, announced that the deal was “much better” now, specifically citing Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Gov. George Pataki’s last-second declaration of support – but no funding commitments – for a new Metro-North station near the stadium. “Is it perfect?” Avella told me. “No. But you have to balance these things out.”
In the end, the only two “no” votes came from Helen Diane Foster, the Bronx rep who’s been an increasingly vocal opponent of the plan to drop a stadium on the doorstep of many of her constituents, and who gave a speech practically begging her council colleagues’ forgiveness for voting her conscience and not the will of the Bronx leadership; and from Brooklyn’s Charles Barron, a frequent Bloomberg critic who likely has bigger things on his mind than possible council retribution, if the “Barron for Congress in 2006” pin he wore to a morning press conference is any indication. (Barron even dared question why Yankee Stadium couldn’t be renovated or rebuilt in place, insisting, “When you have the power to tell the Yankees that they cannot have the park, that they have to build somewhere else, you still can get jobs – you can get everything that you want, if you use your power.”) Two others, including Brooklyn Nets arena foe Letitia James, abstained; one other voted for the stadium but against the accompanying parking garages.
And that was the ballgame. The Yankees stadium bonds still must be voted on by the council on April 28, but given today’s events, it’s nearly inconceivable that they’ll be defeated. That means the best hope for the House That Ruth Built to avoid the wrecking ball – and taxpayers to avoid $420 million in stadium subsidies – is for the National Park Service to ride to the rescue with a ruling that the replacement parkland doesn’t meet federal requirements, or to win the same judgment via a lawsuit. The fat lady may not be singing yet, but Frank Sinatra is warming up his pipes.