SBJ/April 27 - May 3, 1998/No Topic Name

Is structurally sound Yankee Stadium dead politically?

Babe Ruth built a house that stood through a Depression, two World Wars, the economic collapse of the neighborhood that surrounds it and, even more amazingly, 25 years of George Steinbrenner.

But even Yankee Stadium isn’t immune to the forces of time and gravity.

Steinbrenner may have found the ally he needed in his quest for a new, urban ballpark earlier this month when a car battery-sized chunk of steel fell from the upper reaches of hallowed Yankee Stadium, forcing the club to cancel two games and move four others.

For an owner dying to join the parade of others benefiting from new, revenue-friendly ballparks, the mishap may turn out to be a trump card.

The Yankees’ lease with the city expires on Dec. 31, 2002. Both the Yankees and Mets have been working to secure public money to build new parks, but the staggering costs have scared off many politicians.

That all may have changed when 500 pounds of steel landed upon Section 22, Box A, Seat 7.

Though New York City’s building commissioner has since declared Yankee Stadium safe – and fully capable of standing for another 75 years – the genie that Steinbrenner has been looking for may be out of the bottle. Call him Rudy Giuliani, who most emphatically does not want to be the chief executive who presides over the Yankees’ exodus from Gotham.

Seizing an opening in the accident’s immediate aftermath, Giuliani said, "I don’t need to be convinced that it’s a very sound investment for the city to negotiate with the Yankees and Mets to build two new baseball fields."

He expanded on that theme last Tuesday at a press conference where he outlined an ambitious plan to provide $600 million in public funds to help pay for new facilities for the Yankees and Mets and several smaller sports facility projects. The money would be generated by phasing out Manhattan’s commercial real estate tax more slowly than the mayor originally promised.

The City Council in the past has opposed to move the Yankees out of the Bronx, and Speaker Peter Villain has said that any public-financing scheme should be the subject of a public referendum in November. In a city with crumbling infrastructure, where schools have been closed because of falling bricks, getting public money for sports facilities could be tough.

If Giuliani’s proposal does come to a vote, New Yorkers will have much to contemplate.

It’s clear what the Mets want – a retro-styled, 45,000-seat park reminiscent of Ebbets Field that would be build on grounds adjacent to Shea Stadium in time for the 2001 season. Analysts say it could cost more than $500 million.

Projections on the cost of keeping the Yankees are even higher.

The cheapest option, and the one that seems to have garnered the least favor with the Yankees, is a renovation that would add 65 club suites and 6,000 club seats. A new ballpark at an alternate site in the Bronx would cost $945 million.

The most ballyhooed of the sites, one on Manhattan’s West Site near 33rd Street, also carries the highest projected price tag, $1.1 billion, according to HOK.

Whether that kind of an investment would reap dividends for the city is subject to considerable and heated debate.

At the end of the day, the competing arguments may matter less than the realization that, indeed, all politics are local – and that New York’s mayor is farsighted enough to see the flags of the Giants, Jets and Nets fluttering above New Jersey’s Meadowlands.

 

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