SBJ/June 22 - 28, 1998/No Topic Name

When a house is not a home

The political war over a new home for the Yankees keeps getting stranger, with the city's more than $34 billion budget now a casualty.

Reflecting the out-of-proportion passions a stadium debate can evoke, the budget process in the nation's largest city has come to a grinding halt over where one baseball team will play.

How ridiculous is this? Enormously ridiculous, considering the Yankees contribute less than one-tenth of 1 percent of the city's economy, and Mayor Rudolph Giuliani's proposal to spend $600 million in city taxes for the next several years on a new stadium represents less than 2 percent of one year's budget alone.

The mayor's opponents, led by City Council Speaker Peter Vallone, want a referendum to give voters their say on where the Yankees should play. In a countermove, the mayor wants to place another referendum on the New York City ballot, which would knock out Vallone's referendum because only one can be voted on per election.

Vallone is running for governor, and a November referendum on the Yankees could lure more voters to the polls. That did not escape Yankee owner George Steinbrenner's attention. After promising to remain mum on the stadium subject until November, he reneged and threatened to move the team to New Jersey if Vallone did not back off.

All this must be a sorry sight for other cities mulling new stadiums and arenas. It may, however, be unique to New York, experts said.

"There are a number of special features that are combining to produce this outcome," said Andrew Zimbalist, an economics professor at Smith College. "One is that the city budget is in relatively good shape because of the long economic expansion. As a result, there has been a lot of discussion about new projects, and one was the expansion of the Javits Center, which could conflict with a new Yankee Stadium."

The Javits Center, New York's convention center, lies just north of where the mayor had proposed to relocate the Yankees.

Also contributing to the Big Apple's rotten stadium headache: Giuliani is a self-professed Yankee fanatic.

"The mayor's focused on one thing and one thing only," Vallone complained at a news conference last week. "It's the most important thing in his life ...that we must find a way to relocate Yankee Stadium from the Bronx to Manhattan."

Last week, the mayor hosted a fund-raising dinner at Camden Yards in Baltimore during a game and declared the venue the kind of ballpark the Yankees need. "We don't have a state-of-the-art stadium in New York," he said.

Meanwhile, the two sides continue to hurl figures back and forth on a new stadium's economic impact. At a City Council hearing earlier this month, witnesses mocked the mayor's estimate that a new westside stadium would spark $1 billion annually in economic activity.

"Research consistently finds that new stadiums do not produce economic growth in metropolitan areas," said Bronx borough President Fernando Ferrer, who has his own proposal to preserve the Yankees as the Bronx Bombers.

What next? Probably not much until after the November election, though the City Council and the mayor will soon have to agree to a city budget. Zimbalist predicted that the cost of a westside stadium (exceeding $1 billion) will kill the project. Instead, Steinbrenner may win concessions from the city and have the Bronx stadium refurbished at no cost to the team, Zimbalist said.

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