Yankees Plan Marks Parks


There’ll be new parks along with the new stadium, but a principle is being razed

In the New York Yankees’ stadium saga, Macombs Dam Park has long been the whipping boy.

Back in 1994, as Yankees officials were complaining about the crime and parking problems around their 161st Street home, the team’s vice president for community relations, Richard Kraft, was quoted in New York magazine referring to kids playing ball in the park as “monkeys.” He denied he made the remarks, but was forced to resign.

A year later, one in a series of stadium renovation plans had the park paved over to provide more convenient parking to folks somehow unable to take one of the three subway lines that open their doors at the stadium’s doorstep. The community was a little miffed. The plan never took root.

Now, Macombs Dam Park has been designated not for parking but for playing. It is where the Yanks’ new stadium—which will have more boxes for the luxury class and fewer seats for the rest of us—will be placed if all goes according to the plan that Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Governor George Pataki and Boss Steinbrenner unveiled this week.

The city says it will create 28 acres of new parkland, a gain of 6 acres over the park space being lost in the stadium’s move across 161st Street (a shift that also affects Mullaly Park). This will include a new park along the Hudson, “a running track with soccer fields and spectator stands, a little league baseball field, a softball field, tennis courts, handball courts and a basketball court with stands,” the Parks Department says. A department spokeswoman tells the Voice all this parkland will be in the area near the stadium.

Parks commish Adrian Benepe says, “The plan for the new Yankee Stadium will be a boon to Parks.”

Perhaps. But replacing a big park with pieces of little parks isn’t necessarily an even trade-off: A big park can accommodate all sorts of activities that small parks might have to divvy up, making it easier for the whole family to hang out there. And big parks seem more likely to produce those unplanned gems of parks—like the ideal whiffle ball field, or trees set up perfectly to act as football goalposts.

Even if the city gets around those obstacles, there’s something troubling on principle about city parks being not set aside from but rather swept aside by development. And it’s not just happening at Macombs Dam. Further north in the Bronx, at Van Cortlandt Park, a controversial water filtration plant is being placed under a public golf course. In return for sacrificing a chunk of Van Cortlandt during the construction of the plant, the Bronx has been allotted $200 million for improvements to parks. Some of that money was supposed to end up at Macombs Dam.

The Bronx is lucky among New York’s boroughs—it’s 25 percent parkland. Under the evolving new treatment of parks in the city’s development plans, however, just where those parks are and what they look like are subject to change.