On walkways, new stadiums and political donations

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peskywalkways.jpg On and off for the past few months, I’ve assumed the Neil deMause mantle when it comes to the new Yankee Stadium. DeMause, the author of Field of Schemes, an influential book (and blog) detailing sports stadium economics – with a new edition featuring a chapter on New York coming out in April – has long called for an end to taxpayer subsidies for every little detail of sports stadium construction.

I’m on his side. I completely buy into the argument that the economic returns on a stadium do not justify the few-hundred-million-dollar layouts by the cities. Look no further than the Twins. The richest owner in the game is getting a taxpayer-funded stadium when he and the team could easily afford to fit some, if not most, of the bill.

In New York, there are plenty of things that need the taxpayer money, from our infrastructure-challenged subways to our subpar public schools. Two baseball franchies – two of the richest baseball franchises in the sport – don’t need the payouts and tax breaks they’re getting.

All of which brings me to a recent Village Voice story.

Graham Rayman writes about a cozy deal between the Bronx Borough President Adolfo Carrion and a few Bronx landlords:

The Glasers—a family of Bronx elevator-equipment moguls—haven’t been too big on giving money to political campaigns. In fact, city campaign-finance records show that before this spring, they and their company—G.A.L. Manufacturing in the South Bronx—hadn’t given a single dollar to local candidates. Ever. So why did the Glasers suddenly drop almost $30,000 into Bronx Borough President Adolfo Carrion’s campaign war chest in May and July?

Could it have anything to do with the fact that the city had just agreed to pay the Glasers a whopping $5 million for “air rights” over their East 153rd Street property to make way for the renovation of an old pedestrian bridge to the new Yankee Stadium?

Basically, as part of the deal with the Yankees over the construction of the stadium and a new Metro-North stop, the city agreed to shell out $5 million for the air rights over some of the Glasers’ property in order to widen a pedestrian bridge that will provide access from the Metro-North station to the Stadium. No one, of course, would offer much in the way of comments for the Rayman’s story.

The city, according to a source at the Economic Development Corporation, is paying this money because they don’t have time to engage in a lengthy eminent domain battle and meet the construction schedule set forth by the Yanks. Meanwhile, the contract states that the bridge won’t impact the Glasers’ ability to expand their current buildings.

Right about the time the Glasers and the city worked out this deal, the Glasers started giving campaign donations to the Bronx Borough President. How convenient.

Now, I know many of you reading probably won’t care about this issue. It is after all good government-y of me to put so much thought into it, and really, the Metro-North station should have an impact in the South Bronx that goes beyond Yankee games. But for all the press the Yanks won’t got for offering to put forward money for their own ballpark, more and more expenses are coming out of the taxpayer pocket. This is just another $5 million example of the city is really on the hook for larger chunks of this ballpark than they should be.

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  • Huuz

    my impression was that new Yankee stadium was nearly completely funding by the Yanks and not the government/taxpayers. is this not the case?

    the real scandal of the twins situation is that three teams currently share the metrodome:

    twins
    vikings
    univ. of mn football

    the twins and the u of mn football are each getting new stadiums, and the vikings are close to getting a new one for themselves…how many new stadiums do you need?

    as a big fan of Big 10 football, i can also assure you that a new stadium for the u of mn football team is a HUGE waste of $. they come nowhere close to selling the place out…yet they are getting a new stadium??

    it is hard to criticize the Yanks in comparison to this crap.

  • Ed

    Complaining about the funding of the new Yankee Stadium is ridiculous. The Yankees are paying to build the stadium. The city is paying to build a new subway station near it.

    The city should be paying for the subway station. It owns and operates the subway system, and it would be rather silly to not have a subway stop at what will obviously be an extremely popular destination. Bickering over things like the cost of building a bridge to make a train stop practical is just stupid. If they didn’t do it, everyone would just be complaining about the lousy job they did building the stop.

    And personally, I think the city is getting a really good deal out of this. They get 100% of the money from parking at the new stadium. That’s a huge ongoing revenue stream. Don’t forget that the stadium gets used for events other than just baseball games. It’s a lot of easy money for the city.

    • http://www.riveraveblues.com Ben K.

      It’s not a subway station; it’s a commuter rail station that’s being built there because the Yanks asked the City to do so.

      Meanwhile, the Yanks are hardly funding construction of this ballpark. For more on the city subsidies, you can check out this article at BP (subscription required) and this one at the Voice. The Yanks are just not paying for as much of the stadium as they should, and the city – and by extension those of us paying taxes in the city – are getting screwed.

      Stadium economics, Ed, just don’t work out. What other events does the stadium get used for besides baseball these days? A two-day visit from the Pope and that’s about it.

  • It’sMeSNITCHES!!!

    Amen, Ben.

  • Ed

    A commuter rail station is even better. It’s a pain getting to Bronx if you’re not already somewhere else in the city.

    I don’t have a BP subscription, but the part that’s visible is supporting my argument. That article is bashing an article by DeMause which seems to be the basis of the complaints of the financing. DeMause’s is basically trying to compute the Yankees net cost of the Stadium and comparing it against the city’s gross cost. Hollywood and Enron’s accountants would be proud.

    The Voice is simply saying they disagree with revenue estimates. Not much detail there, nor does it in any way support your argument.

    I honestly don’t know what the stadium gets used for, but I know every few months I get random things from the Yankees saying “The stadium isn’t just for baseball! Have your corporate or family events there!”

    Seriously though, the Yankees are footing the ENTIRE $800 million construction cost. Just because they get discounts from MLB’s revenue sharing for doing it (which every other team would get as well) doesn’t mean they’re not footing the construction costs.

    And I will never understand people in a city as crowded as NYC complaining about mass transit improvements.

    • http://www.riveraveblues.com Ben K.

      The Zimbalist article says that the Yanks are footing the bill for about 75 percent of the construction costs of the New Stadium and only the stadium. The other 25 comes from property tax exemptions.

      But the key is that the Yanks are not kicking in money for parking that benefits only the team. They aren’t kicking in money for a Metro-North station that was a part of their stadium plans. They could be doing a lot more considering how much money they have.

      As for the Stadium being for more than just games, none of those corporate events count for much in terms of revenue for the city or the team. Three hundred people heading to the stadium for some hypothetical event doesn’t justify taxpayer money spent on stadium parking lots and a loss of parkland in the park-starved South Bronx.

  • Kevin23

    Not that I want to profess a strong opinion either way (both the Yankees organization and the city of New York are equally wasteful in my eyes), but I gotta say that it’s a toss up whether a new access point or more parks are better for the South Bronx. Both could be argued to create more problems than they solve.

    But the Yankees are what the Bronx is known for other than crime and J-Lo, right? Why shouldn’t the city bend over backwards a little bit to ensure their long-term security. It’s common practice to do much more just to keep a team elsewhere. And upgrading our mass transit is overdue anyway. NYC taxpayers should be expecting more of their mass transit than the 161st St Station. I’m still looking around in vain for the 2nd Ave Subway line I’ve been repeatedly promised over the years. Now they say 2014. Sigh.

  • barry

    The only problem with your understandable anguish over these events is that the so called “air-rights” find their way into our laws through old english common law, on of which stated that if you own a piece of land you own all of the land below it until the middle of the earth and all of it above you as far as you can see, many of which are still laws in this country. Technically this law is overlooked for most things but would probably be viable in a case such as a bridge over your property. As far as whether you think that the 30k was some type of payoff is arguable and unprovable. In the end though I do agree with you that the Yankees should be fronting at least a sizeable portion of every dollar being spent.

  • Ed

    Ben, the non-subscription visible portion of the Zimbalist article says the Yankees are paying 75% of the entire project, not 75% of the stadium cost. That’s after deducting $44 million in tax breaks on a $1 billion project – only 4.4% of the total cost. BTW, getting tax breaks still means the Yankees are the ones writing out the checks for the construction. It just means they’re not writing an additional check to the city afterwards.

    Again, not paying for the parking garage is not significant in the scheme of things, and more importantly, entirely reasonable considering the city will receive 100% of the revenue from parking.

    The only valid complaint is building the stadium over public parks. I have no desire to go to the Bronx other than to see a Yankee game, so which one I care about more is obvious. Of course, I fully understand that some people living in the Bronx feel differently.

    • http://www.riveraveblues.com Ben K.

      I guess that was a poor article to cite. Zimbalist and deMause had something of an Internet fight over it. The Yankees are just not covering 100 percent of the stadiums and nowhere close to the entire project. Here is another article on the funding that delves deeper in the levels of taxpayer subsidies.

  • Pingback: River Ave. Blues » Parking the next aspect of the Great Stadium Swindle

  • Joe

    How about taking all that money , thats coming from the taxpayers and shelter all of the homeless in new york, this really shows our priorities are disgusting. Build a collosal shelter with aid, not a f’n useless stadium that could be payed for by the yankee’s.