News & Politics

Mystery of Stadium Funds Continues

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Nearly a month after Mayor Bloomberg issued his preliminary capital
budget, the mystery over cost overruns for the city’s stadium projects remains. The mayor, it now appears, has attempted to tack on somewhere between $140 million and $226 million in added spending for the Nets, Mets, and Yankees projects—all without notifying the city council, let alone the general public.

To recap: When the sports troika was approved last year, the city
indicated that taxpayers would be on the hook for $160 million in land and
infrastructure costs for the new Yankees stadium (already a last-minute
lineup substitution for the initial $135 million price tag), $98 million
for the Mets, and $100 million for Bruce Ratner’s Atlantic Yards project,
which includes a basketball arena to bring the Nets to Brooklyn. (State
spending and tax breaks would add at least another half-billion to the
overall public tab.) In the mayor’s new budget, however, Yankees spending
is now projected at $209 million through 2009, Mets at $172 million, and
Nets at $205 million.

The city Independent Budget Office already revealed
last month
(and city council sources have since confirmed) that the
extra Atlantic Yards money is for such things as new water mains and
roadways, which somehow weren’t accounted for when the project was first
announced. As for city spending on the Yankees project, which will pay for
building new parkland to replace that obliterated by the new stadium, as well as for demolition of the House That Ruth Built, the city at first insisted that it was still within its original
budget.

However, Parks Department spokesperson Warner Johnston recently told the
Voice in an e-mail that an additional $35 million has been allocated to
the project for “contingency funding and construction-related inflation”—in other words, cost overruns and the expectation of further cost overruns.

That gets us to $140 million. But what about the other $14 million for the
Yanks, and $74 million for the Mets, that shows up in the mayor’s budget?
Johnston referred us to the mayor’s Office of Management and Budget—whose officials declined to return a series of Voice phone calls and e-mails inquiring into the mystery money.

City council officials are apparently getting no better treatment: One
council staffer described OMB as “stonewalling” the council’s own finance
staff on the issue. Staffers for councilmembers Hiram Monserrate and Helen
Diane Foster, who represent residents around the Mets and Yanks stadium
sites respectively, said they knew nothing about the increased allocations.

Lukas Herbert, one of the Bronx Community Board 4 members who’d tried to
warn that the city would face likely cost overruns on its share of the
Yankees project, says, “This is almost like an ‘I told you so’ – it just
goes to show that once a big corporation like the Yankees gets an approval
from government, the cost just goes up for the public.” Not that, under
the circumstances, being right is much comfort to Herbert, who lives three
blocks from the stadium site on the Grand Concourse: “My alarm goes off at
7 a.m., and within five minutes I start hearing the ping, ping of the
pile drivers driving in those columns. And last time I checked, the school
down the street was still falling apart.”