Friday, March 31, 2006

If You Build It, They Will Complain

Last week, the Empire State Development Corporation, the board with final approval over all major construction projects in New York (the agency that finally crushed the West Side Olympic fiasco) approved the city's deal to build new stadiums for the Yankees and Mets by 2009. Not unexpectedly, the city and the general public are getting hosed.

The projects' supporters estimate the city's contribution to the projects at about $200 million, but watchdog groups say that in reality it may be quadruple that when all factors are added in. For that one would hope that these stadiums would somehow benefit the public. That benefit is hard to find. The new ballparks will have a combined 15,000 fewer seats than their classic counterparts. Those seats will be replaced by scores of luxury boxes, an amenity whose primary purpose is so that rich people can enjoy a game without running the risk of catching middle class cooties.

In the Bronx, the new Yankee Stadium will be built on what are currently two parks used by a number of schools and community groups. In the end result, the park land will be replaced, but in less accessible places, like on top of parking garages. During the course of the construction, which could take as long as three years, the parks will be gone, a dangerous condition, especially in such a notoriously rough neighborhood as the South Bronx.

The old Yankee Stadium is oozing with history and character. No, it's not the same building that Babe Ruth or Joe DiMaggio played in, but it is essentially the same field. Newer ballparks in other cities are nice to visit, but they have the feel of watching a game in a mall. People are wandering around the entire game, doing everything from playing amusement park games, to waiting on line at the sushi stand, to whizzing down giant baseball glove-shaped slides. That might work for Baltimore or Philadelphia, but for New York?

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