As the Voice reported in November, Mayor Bloomberg’s plan to drop a new Yankee Stadium down atop two Bronx parks comes with a hefty price tag: $444 million in rent and tax breaks, free land, and state-subsidized parking garages. (A new home for the Mets would cost another $435 million.) But the mayor has insisted that the project’s benefits outweigh the costs; as he said last June in his twin-stadium announcement, “We make ‘investments.’ We don’t do subsidies. We get our money back, and we make money.”
An internal economic analysis commissioned by the city Economic Development Corporation, however, says otherwise. According to the report by private consultants Economics Research Associates, city and state tax benefits from the project over 30 years would total just $225 million—barely enough to repay half the public cost. The city’s share, $96 million, wouldn’t even cover the costs of replacing public parkland, let alone hundreds of millions more in rent and tax breaks.
“It was immediately obvious that this is not a rational investment,” says Dan Steinberg of Good Jobs New York, which unearthed the report via a freedom-of-information request and will release a full analysis later this month. “There’s a perception that the South Bronx community has to take one for the team. But it’s actually taxpayers that share the burden of this project.”
Moreover, questionable number-crunching in the study could reduce the public’s return still further. The two big bugaboos of economic impact are the substitution effect—many fans would spend money elsewhere in the city if they skipped Yankee games—and leakage—much of Yankee fan spending disappears from the city economy and into George Steinbrenner’s beach house (or Jason Giambi’s Clomid bill). ERA said it had accounted for both in its report.
But a closer look at the document reveals some curious math. First off, while the team drew 4.1 million fans last year, ERA arbitrarily compared its projections to a baseline of 3.3 million, representing the average attendance from 1997 to 2004. (ERA’s projected attendance at the new stadium is actually 180,000 fans fewer than visited the House That Ruth Built last year.) Even updating that to the 1998-2005 average, notes Steinberg, would knock millions of dollars off the revenue projections.
A bigger problem: ERA claims to have “only included spending by non-city residents who visit the city primarily to see a Yankees game.” But it looks as if it didn’t. To generate the report’s projected $74 million a year in added ticket revenues solely from out-of-towners, the Yankees would have to average 63,000 fans a night—a neat trick in what would be a 53,000-seat stadium.
The report’s other dubious assumptions include accounting for leakage in ticket sales, but not in food and souvenirs—so there’s no adjustment for fan spending that gets shifted from local shopkeepers to the Yankees’ vast new in-stadium concessions concourses. And Good Jobs New York reports that the report’s promise of 900 new permanent jobs—the now-defunct West Side stadium for the Jets, by comparison, was projected at between 3,500 and 7,000 new jobs—overlooks the fact that some will be part-time and seasonal, potentially dampening the public’s already meager return on its investment. In all, tax revenue from the $444 million project could amount to as little as $150 million.
“The way environmental-impact statements are done these days, it’s like they’re advocacy pieces,” says Lukas Herbert, a city planner who serves on the Bronx community board that gave the stadium plan a thumbs-down in November. “You hire a firm like ERA and say, ‘Here, put in some numbers and make us look good.’ ”
If the City Planning Commission approves the Yankee plan next month, it moves to the city council, where the two Bronx members whose districts would be affected, Helen Foster and Maria del Carmen Arroyo, have backed off their initial public support under pressure from neighborhood groups. But it remains to be seen whether the latest revelations will be enough to get the full council to go toe-to-toe with Bloomberg. “We can’t even get our elected officials to read the environmental impact statement,” says Herbert. “How can we expect them to read a highly detailed economic paper?”