The “Robert Moses” of publicly financed baseball stadiums strikes again – with two outs and a three-and-two count in the ninth inning of his mayoralty
With less thaneighty hours remaining in his mayoralty, outgoing New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani this afternoon announced the details of a controversial tentative $1.6 billion plan to finance the construction of new baseball stadiums for both the Yankees and Mets. Giuliani’s unbridled passion for building baseball stadiums with public funds and his role as the Big Apple’s unabashed #1 baseball fan is seemingly only rivaled by master-builder Robert Moses’ insatiable appetite for public works projects some forty years ago.
Unsatisfied with spending upwards of $118 million in taxpayer’s money on magnificent minor league ballparks on Coney Island in Brooklyn and in the Stapleton community of Staten Island, Giuliani now wants to lock the city into deals with its two major league baseball teams to build two $800 million retractable roof stadiums. Under the Giuliani plan, the city would issue tax-exempt capital improvement bonds to cover the cost of construction. The city, which faces an estimated $4.3 billion deficit in the coming fiscal year, and the baseball clubs would split the annual debt service cost of $50 million for the next three decades. The teams would agree to 35-year leases with no escape clauses.
Ironically, Giuliani’s desire to steamroll this baseball stadium plan through the wheels of city government in the waning hours of his administration is scarily reminiscent of a prior mayor’s own attempt to finalize a stadium plan of his own.
Just over eight years ago, former Mayor David Dinkins, the Big Apple’s #1 tennis fan, finalized the details of a plan for the United States Tennis Association to expand the National Tennis Center facility – home to the famed U.S. Open tournament, in Flushing Meadows Corona Park, Queens – in the the waning hours of his administration. Much to the chagrin of – you guessed it – Mayor-elect Rudy Giuliani.
In 1993, Giuliani and his campaign aides criticized the National Tennis Center deal as a giveaway and the product of a sleazy deal between Dinkins’ Deputy Mayor Norman Steisel, his ethically challenged assistant Ellen Baer, and Sid Davidoff, the super-lobbyist and Dinkins’ tennis buddy. Ignoring most of the terms of the deal, the mayor-elect chose to direct most of his vociferious criticism at a penalty clause which would subject the city to between $250,000 and $300,000 in fines if it failed to make arrangements with FAA officials to redirect flights away from the Tennis Center during the U.S. Open tourney. Even in the unlikely event that fines were ever imposed, they would have been donated back to local youth programs.
In retrospect, Giuliani’s problem with the never-invoked $250,000 tennis center fine clause seems insignificant when compared to the annual $25 million debt service bill “America’s Mayor” want to saddle taxpayers with to build two new baseball stadiums.
New York Times correspondent James McKinley reported on November 18, 1993 reported that Mayor-elect Giuliani urged Mayor Dinkins not to enter into any long term deals, including the Tennis Center deal, before he left office. Two days later, the Times’ Steven Lee Myers reported that the unrelenting criticism of the Tennis Center deal by Giuliani and his aides was creating heightened tensions in the mayoral transition process.
Giuliani never set foot in the National Tennis Center during his eight years as mayor, and even boycotted the emotional opening of the Arthur Ashe Tennis Stadium. His predecessor as mayor, David Dinkins, now a member of the USTA board of directors, is a fixture there for the two- week U.S. Open tournament every year acting as the city’s informal goodwill ambassador to the hundreds of thousands of fans who flock to the national tennis center.
But when you compare the details of Dinkins’ National Tennis Center deal and Giuliani’s tentative Yankees and Mets baseball stadium deals, there’s just no comparison. Unlike the tentative baseball stadium deal, the United States Tennis Association agreed to foot the entire bill for the expansion of the National Tennis Center at a price tag of $172 million. The USTA agreed to establish an $8 million endowment for the upkeep of Flushing Meadows Corona Park and to contribute $2.25 million to capital improvements around the facility. The city had to provide the USTA with the 23 acres to expand the Tennis Center, access to tax exempt Industrial Development Agency bonds, and finance up $11.7 million in roadway improvements around the facility.
Even though the USTA build the facility with its own resources, the city is the owner of the National Tennis Center and has free reign over its use for ten out of twelve months a year. The city also owns Shea and Yankee Stadiums. But even City Hall reportedly ran into problems with Yankees brass over the use of the city-owned “House That Ruth Built” for a memorial service for the victims of the September 11th attack on the World Trade Center.
While no new taxes will be necessary to finance the construction of the new 50,000-seat Yankee Stadium in Macombs Dam Park, adjacent to the old ballpark in the Bronx or the new 45,000-seat stadium for the Mets, adjacent to Shea Stadium – taxpayers will still have to foot the bill for approximately $25 million in annual debt service payments due on these projects for at least the next three decades. Over thirty years, that amounts to a $750 million price tag … but these are just “ballpark” figures. Additionally, the Mayor reports that the state will invest $150 million for infrastructure improvements around Yankee Stadium, including improvements to existing public transportation and parking facilities and construction of a new Metro North Railroad station.
Match point, Dinkins.
What does incoming Mayor Mike Bloomberg think of all of this? He’s not telling anyone, just yet. But folks close to the mayor-elect are whispering that Giuliani’s unconditional love for his Yankees, his personal relationship Randy Levine, the former deputy mayor and current Yankees president, and his friendship with Yankees skipper Joe Torre may have clouded his judgment on this issue.
And did we mention that the new mayor is an admitted Red Sox fan – and that the New York Times, sure to editorialize negatively on the issue, is now a minority owner of the Beantown baseballers? (12/28)
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