On Thursday, the New York Yankees began their regular season at Yankee Stadium, a gleaming $1.5 billion behemoth that opened in the Bronx in 2009 as the new home of one of the richest franchises in sports.
But next to the stadium is a lingering eyesore – a protracted construction project that was supposed to have been transformed into three public ball fields months ahead of opening day. Instead, some coaches and neighborhood residents say, it remains a joyless Mudville, according to the New York Times.
Just as the new stadium was enveloped in controversy, from its financing to its ticket prices, the construction of the three fields has also prompted debate.
The city promised to build the fields, which are starting to take shape directly across 161st Street to the south of the stadium, to replace others that were bulldozed in 2006 to make way for the stadium.
The razed fields, in Macombs Dam Park, were the only regulation baseball diamonds nearby, and were home to neighborhood pickup games and youth leagues, and to teams from schools like All Hallows High School, a parochial institution several blocks away.
“We’ve gone five years now with no ball fields here,” said Sean Sullivan, 55, the principal of All Hallows and a coach of its baseball team, which has spent five years scouring the city for home fields. “They took the parks away from my kids, and now our team is a bunch of gypsies.”
The team, which played part of its 2009 season in Staten Island, is still searching for a site for its league opener on April 7.
The fields were originally to be completed late last year, as the centerpiece of Heritage Field, a 10-acre park where the former Yankee Stadium stood. But the groundbreaking was delayed until last June, and city officials now say the fields will not open until fall 2011.
“They built the new stadium in record time, but building replacement parkland for the community is literally dragging,” said Helen Foster, who represents the neighborhood on the City Council. “I guarantee you if this was another neighborhood, this project would have been fast-tracked.”
Geoffrey Croft, a frequent critic of the parks department, found fault with the parkland project as shortchanging local residents by putting the new stadium on what was a large, contiguous parcel of natural space, only to replace that property with “scattered and inferior” parks with much less vegetation and natural growth, more artificial surfaces and fewer ball fields.
Ms. Foster and other critics blamed city officials for the Heritage Field delays, saying they allowed the old stadium to remain intact long after the team’s final season there, so items could be painstakingly removed for sale as memorabilia.
Adrian Benepe, the city’s parks commissioner, said the delays were a result of various complications, including tightened restrictions on dismantling the old stadium, problems with nearby subway lines and, recently, the particularly cold and snowy winter. He acknowledged that there had been “some inconvenience to the neighborhood” but said that the delays were “not unusual for a complicated project like this.”
“We’re really making an effort to make this a first-rate park,” he said, “as good as any in the city.”
Mr. Benepe said that the sod for the fields would be installed within a month and that progress on the park, which runs along the west side of River Avenue, was “going like gangbusters now.”
“When people look back they don’t say, ‘Did it take longer than we thought?’ ” he said. “They say, ‘Did it deliver what it promised?’ ”
To build the new stadium, more than 22 acres of parkland were cleared, including Macombs Dam Park and a portion of John Mullaly Park. The property included several ball fields – city officials say four, residents insist it was five.
Heritage Field, a $51 million project, is part of a redevelopment of parkland around the stadium that the city was required to undertake by state law, to replace more than 20 acres of parkland taken for the new stadium. Most of the other projects have been completed.
The effort also included creating or renovating eight smaller parks, ranging from a skateboard area on River Road to Mill Pond Park, a 10-acre waterfront expanse near the Harlem River with 16 championship-caliber tennis courts, a beach, a seasonal ice rink, and a tennis and skate house. Adjacent to Heritage Field is the new Macombs Dam Park, with a sprawling field for football and soccer, a 400-meter track, fitness equipment, a grandstand, four basketball courts and eight handball courts.
The full price of the replacement parks is $195 million, far more than the 2005 estimate of $116 million, according to a 2009 report conducted the city’s Independent Budget Office. City officials said the extra costs resulted from unanticipated environmental cleanup, rising construction costs and project expansions.
Ms. Foster accused the Yankees of doing little to help local residents in one of the poorest parts of the country. “There’s this perception in this area that the Yankees’ needs come before everyone else’s,” she said.
A Yankees spokeswoman said the team donated $10 million to the parks replacement project in 2010, and gave $5.6 million worth of donations – including ballpark events, tickets and merchandise – to various Bronx organizations. The team also helped provide buses for local schools, including All Hallows, in 2009, she said.
Yankees officials said on Wednesday that neighborhood residents have reacted to the parks project in largely positive ways.
“I cannot tell you how many people have come up to me to say thank you because the broken-down parks have been replaced,” said Randy Levine, the team president.
Mr. Sullivan, the All Hallows principal and coach, is still a Yankees fan. Though he has no home field for the school’s team for yet another season, his office is full of Yankees memorabilia, and he has high hopes this year for his team, anchored by an ace pitcher, James Norwood, a heavily scouted right-handed senior.
“I hoped the Yankees could have thrown the kids some tickets and made them feel important during all this,” he said. “I guess we’re just little fish in the big ocean.”
New York Times - March 31, 2011 - By Corey Kilgannon
Unfortunately More Spin From City Officials
- By Geoffrey Croft
Adrian Benepe's boss, Mayor Bloomberg was finally forced to admit the building of the three ballfields were delayed in part by the Yankee memorabilia issue. In his final Mayoral debate with Comptroller Thompson held on October 27, 2009, the mayor was asked about the replacement parks and the delays.At first he said attempted to down play it, "It has taken a little longer than we planned, " a minute later however when pressed he folded, "It has taken a lot longer - they were a few environmental issues and then the Yankees took a long time in selling off the memorabilia. I don't know how many people wanted to buy seats but apparently a lot of them did."
What he forgot to do was take responsibility for this, or mention that the NY Mets began taking down its stadium the day after their season ended.
In June 2005, without a single public hearing, city and state elected officials transferred 25.3 acres of historic South Bronx parkland to allow the New York Yankees to build a new stadium.As part of this action, the Bloomberg and Pataki administrations and the Yankees organization promised the community not only that the parks would be replaced, but also that even more parkland would be provided in return. As our 2008 Broken Promises report clearly shows, a close examination reveals that only 21.8 of the 25.3 acres are actually being replaced in the community, resulting in a net loss of nearly 4 acres.
The New York City Department of Parks and Recreation, and EDC have repeatedly attempted to hide this deficiency as well as the serious delays in building replacement facilities - some up to three years. This is particularly abhorrent considering the location, the South Bronx, one of America's poorest communities. And this is only the beginning of the broken promises.
Also it was Helen Foster, who now accuses the Yankees of doing little to help local residents, who sponsored the legislation which allowed the Yankees to seize the 25.3 acres of public parkland. At the end on the day ,when everything is built the community will have lost 4 acres of parkland in the community and including two ballfields. As hard as this administration tries, there is no escaping the truth. Yes the Yankee finally agreed to contribute a paltry $ 10 million for replacement parks while over the last two years the new stadium raked in $ 779 million just from the sale of tickets and luxury suites alone.
This has always been a real estate deal plain and simply. The city handed more than 25 acres of historic parkland so the wealthiest sports franchise in America could make billions on the backs of the country's poorest. The American way. This entire project has been about broken promises. Unfortunately they continue.
The Yankees Win. The Yankees Win.