Stadium Splurge


The Subway Series is bad for the subways.

In fact, it may well prove a disaster for every public service in New York that needs capital improvement.

Rudy Giuliani, who’s set mind-boggling expenditure records for two new minor-league baseball stadiums, is already exploiting World Series fever to push his grand plan for a major-league stadium explosion unlike any in history. The billion and a half this minor and major mania will collectively cost us means less funding for everything from transit to schools. There might even be fewer cops to protect John Rocker.

The billion and a half this stadium mania will collectively cost us means less funding for everything from transit to schools.

Just a month ago, Mets ownership was talking about staying at Shea and merely renovating it. But now, Fred Wilpon, sounding more like Steinbrenner every day, has been doing WFAN interviews celebrating the agreement he says he’s reached with the mayor for a half-billion-dollar new stadium in the parking lot next to Shea. That price tag, which will undoubtedly grow, does not cover all the highway, rail link, and other infrastructure costs of the Mets bonanza.

Rest assured that the Boss—who has hired Rudy’s old friend and former deputy mayor Randy Levine as Yankee president—fully expects to top, if not double, whatever the Mets gouge. That will be true whether he gets a new stadium in the Bronx or on the West Side of Manhattan, where Giuliani dreams about a combo Jets/Yankees colossus.

Almost all of this will come out of city and state coffers, with the Mets and Yanks “contributing” whatever they get for the corporate naming rights and no one asking why they get to sell the name of a stadium we pay to build. Giuliani actually started berating George Pataki last week because the state was said to be unwilling—we can only hope and pray—to pony up its share. The mayor was simultaneously gloating over the supposed largesse the city was mysteriously reaping from a series that has no out-of-town team, spinning numbers as fanciful as the dollars he says we already have for stadiums.

Rudy told reporters that the city has “a dedicated construction fund of about $300 million that is projected to grow to about $500 million over the next two years.” In fact, there’s only $90 million in that fund set aside as a miscellaneous expenditure in the current expense budget. The financial plan calls for an additional deposit of $194 million next fiscal year and $289 million in 2003, but financial plans are cheaper to issue and quicker to change than campaign promises.

A new mayor and a very new City Council—thanks to term limits—will have to approve those appropriations in each of those budget years, when a tougher economy could require cuts in vital services to sustain them. There isn’t a fiscal watchdog who supports this curious form of financing new stadiums anyway. The city got into a financial mess decades ago by using construction funds—which are usually segregated in the capital budget—to plug holes in the expense budget, which pays for day-to-day services. The awkward inverse of these unsound practices, driven purely by Rudy’s stadium complex in a time of temporary surplus, may prove just as nightmarish.

What is likely to happen is that the city and state sign binding deals with the teams shortly after the parade that will deplete their budgets, expense or capital, for years to come, and that upstate Republicans then demand and get compensating grandiose and unnecessary expenditures for their region.

Even sadder, what usually follows public stadium commitments is a downturn in team fortunes, which are a function of what owners are willing to spend to drum up support for new facilities. The San Diego Padres got a new stadium out of their 1998 World Series appearance and quickly dismantled the team. The Denver Broncos and San Francisco 49’ers rode Superbowls to new stadiums and then went into decline, as did the NBA’s San Antonio Spurs.

The fever of this series is just as likely to leave us drained over time, both as taxpayers and as fans.

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