Yankee Stadium Death Watch: Day 331
As anyone who's been to a game at Fake Yankee Stadium lately can attest, the old home of the Bronx Bombers across the street remains relatively intact, nearly a year after its final game. The last of the seats were sliced out in early June (taking care to preserve them for sale to any collectors willing to cough up $750 apiece), and demolition scaffolding went up later that month. Since then, though, all has been mostly quiet: Despite reports that the centerfield "black" seats would be carted off to Reggie Jackson's estate by now, they were still intact as of Friday, as were the foul poles; even the bat-shaped weathervane atop the flagpole is still in operation.
The seemingly placid state of affairs has led to some angry protests by neighborhood residents impatient for the new ballfields that are slated to replace the House That Ruth Built once the wrecking ball has finally finished its work. The latest came yesterday, when the newly organized For The South Bronx Coalition marched around the stadium (note: Español required, or at least Google Translate) to call for speedier demolition, among other promises they say the Yanks have broken.
"Shea Stadium was demolished in a couple of months, while Yankee Stadium is going to take a year and a half because they're selling it off brick by brick by brick," says coalition leader Ramon Jimenez.
While one new temporary park, atop a Yankees parking garage, opened this spring, another that had opened in 2007 north of the Macombs Dam Bridge approach was razed recently to prepare for construction of yet another garage. And according to Jimenez, the artificial surface at the garage-top park has proven less than ideal: "The kids start to play football there, and the temperatures reach 150 degrees."
David Lombino, a spokesperson for the NYC Economic Development Corporation, which is overseeing the demolition of the old stadium, says everything is proceeding according to schedule, with the grandstand to be completely razed by next June, and the new parks opening sometime in 2011. Current work is focused on "soft demolition," he says, such as removal of sheetrock and drop ceilings, with major demolition work starting "within two months" — conveniently or not, just in time to avoid forcing fans to walk by a half-gutted ballpark on their way to postseason games. (As for the report that work was being delayed so that Robby Benson can shoot a movie about Lou Gehrig, Thurman Munson, and a magic storeroom, Lombino says the filming has had no effect on the schedule.)
Jimenez, however, insists that according to his source within the Yankees organization, the slow pace has another cause: "The main thing is they're figuring out how to sell every little part in it."
The other demands put forward by the For The South Bronx Coalition include that the Yankees release figures showing whether the team has employed local residents as promised in the Community Benefits Agreement it signed in 2006; and the replacement of the scandal-plagued chief of the Yanks' community benefits fund, which the coalition claims has distributed only about $600,000 of the promised $2.4 million in community aid, much of it in other parts of the Bronx.
"Where I live, my community's not inconvenienced by the new stadium," says Jimenez, a Throgs Neck resident who runs a law office on 149th Street in the South Bronx. "I went to the last grant ceremony, and the Throgs Neck Little Leagues would get $7,500; the few South Bronx Little Leagues they got $1,000 or $1,500. The discrepancy was amazing."
Meanwhile, the push is on from another group of Yankee fans and historic preservationists to preserve Gate 2, the section of the original stadium that survived the 1970s renovations the most intact. While they have Bronx borough historian Lloyd Ultan on their side ("If you go to Rome, you can get some idea of what the Forum was like from the ruins"), the Parks Department insists there are "no current plans" to preserve the gate, something EDC has estimated would cost $10 million. And Jimenez says he wouldn't want to delaying the parks still further just to retain a symbolic piece of the old stadium: "We don't think it has that great significance." At least, not compared to a ballfield that won't cause second-degree burns. Photo (cc) Shelley Panzarella.