A few days ago, someone I know pointed me to StadiumPage.com. The site was first established in 1998, and I’m sure I’ve run across at some point or another while aimlessly browsing the Internet. This time though I dug into the unrealized concepts page and found a treasure trove of material. Included on that page were models of a new Yankee Stadium with a retractable roof, and so let’s hop in the Wayback Machine.
This is a tale that can begin in the late 1980s, the early 1990s or the dawn of the current century. Since the new stadium boom embraced baseball, George Steinbrenner had lusted after a new park. He saw the revenues and sellout crowds in Baltimore and Cleveland and wanted a piece of the action. After all, this was a time before the Yankee Dynasty, before A-Rod, before sellout crowds every night. The 1993 Yankees, in fact, averaged just 29,800 fans per game in a stadium without luxury boxes that could seat nearly 57,000.
As the Yanks won, Steinbrenner’s calls grew louder. He wanted to tap into the unrealized potential that a stadium with its new amenities, fine dining and corporate suites would bring into the Yanks’ coffers. Even after winning four of five World Series, the Yanks’ average attendance in 2000 was just under 38,000 fans per game, and Steinbrenner was quite content to blame it on the stadium.
The Boss knew as well that he had a sympathetic ear in City Hall. Rudolph Giuiliani was an unabashed baseball fan, and he took seriously the Yanks’ idle threats to move to New Jersey. In the mid-1990s, he promised a solution to the city’s baseball teams’ stadium woes, and in 1998, for instance, George Steinbrenner was eyeing the West Side as a new home for the Yankees. HOK had proposed the Hudson Yards area as a perfect site for a $1.06 billion with a retractable roof, and the Boss loved it.
As the late 1990s dragged on, city agencies though started pushing back against Giuliani’s plan. He wanted to give major subsidies to both the Mets and the Yankees for the new stadiums, and the Citizens Budget Committee pushed back hard in 1999. Much to the chagrin of the mayor, they proposed a cap on the city giveaways. Much to the detriment of late-2000s New York City, the CBC would be last major governmental opposition to city subsidies for the two baseball stadium.
By early 2001, Giuliani had yet to come through on his stadium vows, and with his two-term stay in Gracie Mansion nearing an end, he had to act fast. In April, he recognized that his successor wouldn’t be so generous with their grants and vowed to find the dollars before the year ended. ”I think it is good for the city if we get them wrapped up now,” he said, “because I do have a different view than at least some of the people who would like to succeed me.”
In July, stadium rumors reached a crescendo as rumors of a July 4th announcement swelled. As then-Times columnist Murray Chass noted, many in the New York sports world expected the city and Yankees to announce a new stadium, complete with a retractable roof, in the Macombs Dam Park. It did not come to pass.
As the summer wore on, the mayor kept up the pace. A September 9 article made it clear that Rudy was staking part of his legacy on the new stadiums. One opponent spoke out against what he feared would be “a midnight deal that is inherently against the public interest.” Two days later, history intervened, and the stadium issue would escape much public scrutiny until the waning hours of Giuliani’s term.
On December 29, 2001, armed with models complete with retractable roofs, Guiliani, the Yankees and Mets neared stadium deals. For a combined cost to the city of $1.6 billion, the two clubs would build their stadiums where their new homes currently sit today. Each team would receive $800 million in tax-free municipal bonds, and the city would keep various stadium revenues. When the deal became official, Steinbrenner seemed annoyed that he — and not the city — would have to pay for the stadium costs, and the price tag — with roof — was set at $800 million.
These deals rapidly unraveled. Mayor Michael Bloomberg worked to torpedo the deals in 2002 because they were too team-friendly, and he eventually worked out a new arrangement in which the Yanks would front more — but definitely not all — of the costs associated with the construction. Gone from the plans that emerged in 2004 and 2005 was the roof. The Yanks decided to save the $200 million and build an open-air park instead.
When I see the renderings from early 2001 and the plans that emerged, I’m struck by how similar they are. Perhaps I shouldn’t be though. HOK designed the stadium with a roof, and HOK designed the current stadium without a roof. For the most part, they simply took the roof off of their earlier models and changed the outfield configuration. The plan to reimagine and recreate the original look and feel of old Yankee Stadium had been a part of the replacement plans since Steinbrenner got the new stadium itch.
Should we rue the lack of a roof? I know in 2009 a lot of fans were bemoaning the price tag. For one point whatever billion dollars, couldn’t they stick a roof on that thing? But of course, the Yanks saved some money keeping the park roof-free, and they saved the atmosphere of the game. When it comes to baseball outside, I’m a traditionalist. I’ve seen games in a dome, and it’s surreal to watch baseball on a carpet with a roof over your head. Even with the roof open, it hovers over the stands and the field. Furthermore, the space needed for the roof would likely have stretched further into the Bronx parkland. I’m happy to take games in the new stadium without that hulking contraption overhead. The Yankees were too once the city made them pony up the dollars.