News & Politics

Bloomberg Adding $226 Million for Nets, Mets, Yanks?

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Buried in the nether reaches of the preliminary
capital budget
that the mayor released last Thursday are some curious
details on the three new sports facilities—that’s Yanks, Mets, and Nets,
for those scoring at home—that the city has in the works. Namely, total
city capital funding for the projects appears to now be as high as $586
million—a nearly two-thirds hike from the $360 million (not counting tax and
lease breaks
) that Bloomberg had promised taxpayers would be on the
hook for when the projects were first announced.

Our story begins last Thursday, when Norman Oder of the Ratner-watch blog
Atlantic Yards
Report
noticed something odd in the mayor’s capital plan overview: On
a page marked “Economic Development Capital Highlights,” Bruce Ratner’s
Atlantic Yards project to bring big-ass
skyscrapers
and a Nets basketball arena to the northern edge of
Prospect Heights was listed at a
city price tag of $205 million
. That’s more than double the $100
million in direct city cash that Bloomberg agreed
to spend back in 2005
:

Under the MOU, the State and the City will each contribute
$100 million in capital contributions to fund site preparation and public
infrastructure improvements on and around the arena site, including
streets, sidewalks, utility relocations, environmental remediation, open
space and public parking.

The mayor’s office didn’t respond to Voice queries about the discrepancy, but Doug Turetsky of the Independent Budget Office did. The added $105 million, he explains, is for still more infrastructure costs, “some of
which might have been on the books prior to Atlantic Yards, but some
substantial amount of which is likely related to the scale of the project—such as the need for expanding sewer and water capacity.”

News of the mayor’s apparent hidden-ball trick provoked outrage at Develop
Don’t Destroy, whose spokesperson Dan Goldstein fumed in a Monday morning
press release, “The ballooning number comes after the project received its only political approval by the State’s Public Authorities Control Board in December, amounting to a bait and switch at taxpayer expense.” Councilmember Tish James’s office is currently investigating exactly where the new funds are headed, and what, if anything, the council can do about it.

Elsewhere in the mayor’s budget, meanwhile, projected capital costs for
land and infrastructure associated with the Yankees and Mets stadiums—previously pegged at $160 million and $98 million, respectively—are now listed as totaling $209 million and $172 million over the next several years. The Observer’s Matt Schuerman first noticed similar overages in last summer’s city capital plan; at the
time, city Office of Management and Budget spokesperson Ray Orlando
claimed that the added funds were a mistake that would be rectified in
this month’s budget.

Not so much, it turns out. (Orlando has yet to return Voice phone calls asking for an explanation.)

It’s all enough to make one wonder if New Yorkers are really meant to know
what our elected officials are spending our money on. “The city budgets,
while they have become increasingly transparent, still are not organized
in a way to allow the kind of public scrutiny necessary to evaluate these
sorts of items,” admits Citizens Union director Dick Dadey, though he says
the problem may be less “intentional effort to obfuscate” than the fact
that ” our city budget is far more complex than most states’.” Council
speaker Christine Quinn, he points out, has pressed for more transparency
in the budget process; it will be interesting to see if an unexpected $105
million invoice will be enough to get the speaker to start asking tough
questions of her pal the mayor over the project that would eat Brooklyn.

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