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September 20, 2011
Yankee Stadium hotel to tack on more public subsidies?
Remember those all-but-bankrupt parking garages that were built for the new Yankees stadium, only to find that Yankee fans aren't so keen on paying $35 to park when they do so for $10 a couple of blocks away? Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr has a plan to rescue them: Rezone one of the 1970s-era garages near the site of the old Yankee Stadium and let the parking company try to develop it as a "hotel/conference center."
As for whether such a hotel in the South Bronx could make money, let alone enough money to bail out money-losing parking garages, nobody knows — Diaz' plan is technically just a "Request for Expressions of Interest," which translates as "Hey, anybody out there want to build a hotel?" For Diaz, this is a slam dunk: If the project happens, he gets to say he got his long-desired hotel built in his borough, and helped rescue the Yankee garage project as well. (The RFEI asks for a developer to build a "Latino Hall of Fame" as well, but that's clearly just padding the wish list.) From a city perspective, the worry is that because the garage is on city-owned land — the city apparently handed it over to the garage operator a couple of years ago, gratis — any hotel project could end up involving even more city subsidies to the already heavily-subsidized project, if only via property-tax breaks or the like.
That's especially true because the list of successful hotels anchored only by a sports stadium is vanishingly small. "A conference center depends upon group business, and there is not much in terms of demand generators (or Manhattan amenities) around the stadium," University of Texas economist Heywood Sanders (whose book on convention center economics should be out soon) told me for my Village Voice article on the hotel plan. "Cleveland did subsidize some new hotels into being around Gateway, but the downtown hotel market there never took off and now is suffering."
If a garage is torn down to make way for a hotel, it'll be a bitter irony for residents of the surrounding neighborhood, who watched as their public parks were taken away to make room for what's now unused parking. Joyce Hogi, a community activist who was active in both fighting the stadium project and pushing the city to expedite replacement parks, tells FoS she's skeptical of the whole deal: "If you had money to invest, would you build a hotel and conference center on this site? ... What is there to come to? When the City starts taking care of the area then maybe, just maybe..."