“Before I start, I would just like to take a minute and show you a very quick video,” Yankees president Randy Levine began his testimony to the city council at Tuesday’s hearing on the team’s $1.2 billion plan for a new stadium in what’s now Macombs Dam Park. With Steinbrenner consultant/sometime nemesis Reggie Jackson at his side, Levine unspooled a promo video that featured current team stars proclaiming: “I play for the New York Yankees—and I’m proud to play in the Bronx.”
It went over like a lead balloon, with both Bronx rep Helen Diane Foster and Brooklyn’s Charles Barron calling the spectacle “insulting.” (Even Bronx prez and Yankee pal Adolfo Carrion agreed.) Clearly no one was forgetting the Yanks’ long history of disdain for their surroundings—both Foster and Maria del Carmen Arroyo, the two councilmembers whose districts would be most directly impacted by the stadium plan, warned that it was hard to give the ballclub the benefit of the doubt, with Foster comparing the Yankees’ treatment of its Bronx ‘hood to an abuser, “Asking the ones that have been abused to ‘trust me one more time.'”
Just as clearly, though, the council showed no intention of making tough demands in exchange for the $400-million-plus in public subsidies the Yankees are looking for. Despite some harsh words, Foster and Arroyo (daughters of longtime Bronx pols Wendell Foster and Carmen Arroyo) spoke mostly about tweaking the plan to ease traffic and provide more money for Bronx parks—leaving the impression that if the Yankees can find it in their hearts to buy the Bronx some flowers, all will be forgiven.
As for their Bronx constituents, those on hand minced fewer words once they got their turn at the mic. (Public testimony didn’t start until more than three hours into the hearing, then was delayed still further when it turned out the council chambers were booked for another event, and the whole proceedings had to decamp across the street, leaving most of the press corps behind.) “I think it’s very telling that all of the pro-Yankee supporters [here] do not live in the neighborhood,” said longtime Grand Concourse resident and Save Our Parks co-founder Joyce Hogi, in an oblique rebuke to Carrion’s statement on yesterday’s Brian Lehrer Show that “outside agitators” were to blame for opposition to the project. “We’re not opposed to economic development, but this project is not about economic development—it’s about a land grab from a disenfranchised community. There is no amount of community benefit agreement that can mitigate the giving up of public parkland to a private enterprise.”
Even the stadium land-use plan is approved by the council as expected next Wednesday, though, it still faces additional hurdles. First up is an April 7 council hearing on the complicated finance plan that would allow the Mets and Yanks to evade IRS restrictions on tax-exempt bonds. (This dodge is expected to cost the public about $255 million, hitting mostly federal taxpayers.) And beyond that, the National Park Service still must sign off on whether the new parkland being created is of equal “usefulness and location” compared to the 22 acres of existing parkland that would be displaced.
“There are no shortcuts,” the Park Service official in charge of approvals told Metro New York yesterday, saying the process could take anywhere from weeks to a year. “We have a responsibility to follow the law.” Even, presumably, if Randy Levine buys them flowers.