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June 25, 2008
NYC Parks Department on delays: Building parks is hard!
New York city councilmember Helen Diane Foster - best remembered as the only Bronx elected official to vote against the new Yankees stadium project, though she all but apologized for doing so - held a hearing yesterday into the progress (or lack thereof) of the replacement parks the city is supposed to be building to compensate for the parks destroyed to make way for the new stadium. Chief witness for the defense was parks deputy commissioner Liam Kavanagh, who argued that the new parks aren't really delayed (a track being built atop a parking garage will open a year late, he admitted, but the park it replaced stayed open a year longer than expected, so it's all a wash), while trying to explain how projected costs have doubled over the past three years:
"The earliest construction cost projections were made using industry standards for materials and commodities and comparable costs for similar projects. However, site conditions, environmental mitigation and the unique nature of some of these properties have resulted in higher estimates than were originally projected. The Waterfront Park site had 10 underground oil tanks rather than the four shown on the survey resulting in significantly higher mitigation costs. The seawall and subsurface require significant new infrastructure to support the park program. ... The first demolition estimates for the stadium were based on industry standards, but the stadium is anything but a typical structure and its proximity to two major subway lines makes the project even more complex."
Under questioning from Foster, Kavanagh denied that the city had "watered down" its initial cost estimates to make them more palatable, insisting, "I can assure you there was no attempt to underplay the cost of the replacement program." Maybe, when it comes to underground oil tanks - though you'd think by now anyone's best guess at how many rotting oil containers underlie any given plot of New York land would be "more than you want to imagine" - but you'd think the city might have noticed that Yankee Stadium sits next to two subway lines before now. Given that other cities have openly admitted lowballing projected stadium costs, it's probably best not to rule out the possibility that the Parks Department was, at the least, being optimistic when it initially told the city council the project would cost $135 million, instead of the $281 million currently budgeted. Either that, or they forgot to include shipping charges.
Meanwhile, the New York Daily News didn't send a reporter to cover the hearing, but did run a story the day before with the stunning headline "Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe confirms plans to level Yankee Stadium." Stunning, that is, to anyone who hasn't been paying attention the last couple of years.