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Thursday, June 16, 2005

Bronx Is Up as Yankees Unveil Stadium Plan - New York Times

Bronx Is Up as Yankees Unveil Stadium Plan - New York Times The New York Times
June 16, 2005
Bronx Is Up as Yankees Unveil Stadium Plan
By RICHARD SANDOMIR

The Yankees unveiled their design for a new ballpark yesterday with a look that would be recognized by Babe Ruth or Joe DiMaggio but with amenities and moneymaking potential that will enrich the team.

Construction of the ballpark will mean the end of major league baseball at Yankee Stadium, where Mickey Mantle roamed center field, Don Larsen pitched the only World Series perfect game, popes visited and Joe Louis beat Billy Conn.

"We are standing at the cathedral of baseball," Randy Levine, the Yankees' president, said at a crowded news conference with team executives and elected officials sitting beneath the stained glass of the Stadium Club. "We love this place. We honor its memories." But, he added: "This building is becoming nonfunctional. It can't go on for another 40 years."

George Steinbrenner, the Yankees' principal owner, beamed as speakers called him King George I and praised him for having the team finance construction of the $800 million stadium.

"This is a great heritage," he said. "We love the Bronx."

He also indicated that Steve Swindal, his son-in-law and general partner of the team, would succeed him.

Steinbrenner, who bought the team in 1973, can look forward to the stadium's opening in 2009, shortly before his 79th birthday. It will rise just north of the old stadium; it will seat from 50,800 to 54,000, with 50 to 60 luxury boxes and an unspecified number of high-priced club seats. About 30,000 seats will be in the lower bowl, 20,000 in the upper, the reverse of the current configuration.

The new stadium will be reminiscent of Yankee Stadium circa 1923, with its limestone-based exterior, arches and grand entrance designed by Osborn Engineering, whose old drawings were studied by Earl Santee of HOK Sport + Venue + Event, the architect for the new venture.

The classic rooftop frieze that endured from 1923 until it was destroyed by the 1974-75 renovation will return but will be made of a translucent material, not copper, and a restaurant will be built above a recreated Monument Park behind the batter's eye in the outfield. The field dimensions will remain as they are now, concourses will be wide, and the field will be visible from any snack bar or concession stand.

The team's decision to pay for the stadium is a position that has changed drastically over two decades. Steinbrenner had for years looked for ways out of the Bronx to move to New Jersey or Manhattan, fulminated about crime, parking and vermin in the neighborhood, and argued with public officials like Fernando Ferrer, then the borough president, about low attendance.

Steinbrenner stopped criticizing the neighborhood about the time the Yankees starting winning World Series again and their attendance rocketed from 2.25 million in 1996 to a team record 3.77 million last season.

In the many stadium plans suggested to or by Steinbrenner, in the Bronx or elsewhere, to build a stadium or to renovate the old one, he sought public financing.

By agreeing that the team will pay the cost of construction, he recognized a growing trend toward teams' paying their way if they want new ballparks.

"We decided to stay," Steinbrenner said. "That's the cost today."

Levine added: "It became evident over the past several years - not just in New York - that a public subsidy was not going to happen. We can afford it, and we can make the commitment."

The Yankees' announcement came three days after the Mets revealed that they would finance a new ballpark next to Shea Stadium, which will convert to use as an Olympic stadium if the city wins its bid to play host to the 2012 Summer Games.

The two stadiums are scheduled to open in 2009 and in both cases will get infrastructure help from the city and the state. "The state is helping," Gov. George E. Pataki said, "but George is footing the bill. It doesn't get any better than that."

In the Yankees' case, the city will contribute $135 million to, among other things, replace the land that the new stadium will occupy at well-used and well-worn Macombs Dam and John Mullaly Parks. The state will spend $70 million to build three new garages with 4,000 to 5,000 spots and get all the parking revenues.

No mention was made of a new Metro-North rail station at the stadium, which would come out of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's capital budget

The new parkland will include Little League fields and an esplanade along the Harlem River; a 400-meter track, and softball and soccer fields outside the old stadium; and tennis and handball courts atop two of the three new garages. The new ballpark and the old one - which may be cut down to its lower tier for use as an amateur baseball field - will be separated by an enlarged Babe Ruth Plaza.

The new ballparks will use tax-exempt bonds issued by the city that will save both teams millions of dollars in annual debt payments. Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg bristled when asked if doing so constituted subsidizing the projects.

"The government is here to facilitate development in the city," he said. "We don't do subsidies." He added, "The city is getting paid back at a profit."

Another element of the financing for the Yankees will be their ability, granted by the collective bargaining agreement with the players, to offset their revenue-sharing payments to the rest of the league by deducting their debt payments.

Andrew Zimbalist, a professor of economics at Smith College, described this financial practice as a type of subsidy from the other major league teams. The Yankees paid $60 million into the revenue-sharing pool in 2004.

"It's a subsidy, whether you're getting a check directly from Bud Selig, or indirectly, whereby you send a smaller check to the other teams," Zimbalist said, referring to the baseball commissioner.

Levine stopped short of calling it a subsidy, but said, "Clearly, the revenue-sharing rules were a factor in making the stadium affordable." He added that the other teams "may be the ones who are most unhappy about this."

But he said the substantial new revenues that the ballpark would generate may mean that the team will share more money in the future, simply not as much as it would if not for its ability to deduct debt payments.

Levine said that he believed the Yankees had so far convinced the Bronx community and its leaders of the need to build the ballpark, and that he did not expect significant opposition. The team will submit the project in the fall for the city's approval through the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure.

Daniel L. Doctoroff, the deputy mayor, said he did not anticipate a fight over the stadium or a campaign like the ubiquitous one mounted by Cablevision against the proposed $2.2 billion Jets stadium on the Far West Side of Manhattan that could have been the centerpiece of the 2012 Olympics. The refusal by Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver last week doomed that project, forcing the city to look to Flushing in Queens.

"There's a small group that doesn't want everything to happen, wherever it is," Doctoroff said.

That small group appears to be Friends of Yankee Stadium, whose membership of 20 has been "waiting for something to organize against," said David Gratt, one of its members, who lives two blocks from the stadium.

The group has a Web site, yankeesstayhome.com.

"For 20 years, the Yankees have stated their desire for a new stadium, but never successfully stated a case for need," he said. "The mayor and the Yankees say it's approaching nonfunctionality, but it processed nearly four million people last year. I'm sure there are minor structural things to be addressed, but it's not nonfunctional."

Gratt said he would like to see the old stadium survive the way Fenway Park has.

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