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GAME PLAYED UNDER PROTEST
What Hath George Wrought?
An Open Letter to Boss Steinbrenner
By Ralph Nader
So you want to be the man who tears down the "House That Ruth Built." And for what? More profit.
Neither you, nor the city government you pressured, should ever do this to a place so rich in history and tradition as Yankee Stadium. Would the city ever tear down Carnegie Hall? Adding wasteful insult to senseless injury, you command hundreds of millions of dollars in public subsidies and primary neighborhood parkland to support a new imposter stadium.
At your invitation-only "ground breaking" on August 16, you professed that "It's a pleasure to give this to you people," as if you were giving something to south Bronx residents, the taxpayers, and the fans, rather than taking from them.
Perhaps "you people" were the many compliant politicians who fell all over themselves to approve your plans, virtually skipping thorough public debate and process altogether. Or maybe "you people" were the well-connected developers eager to get their hands on another neighborhood. Either way, I'm sure they are all dreaming of securing further deals behind the closed doors of their luxury suites at a new stadium.
But what you are "giving" to south Bronx families and residents is less opportunity for their recreation, more pollution, and unease over developers' unknown intentions for their neighborhood. You have seized their centrally located parkland and are reportedly in the process of cutting down nearly four hundred mature trees to make way for a new stadium. In a dubious proposal to offset this loss of parkland, other park spaces are to be created in three years. But these are scattered farther awaymuch of it across a highwaywith little value and utility to the same residents.
In addition, the plans call for parking garages and four thousand more parking spaces that will result in further contamination of the already heavily polluted neighborhood while discouraging transit ridership.
What you are "giving" the taxpayers is a bill for $422 million or so in land giveaways, tax breaks, and supporting infrastructure and transit costs. In a new stadiumowned by a development company which is owned by the cityyour "rent" payments would no longer go to the city treasury but instead toward paying off the taxable share of the construction bonds. Plus, you would no longer pay property taxes at a new stadium.
But the gravy train doesn't stop there. In a recent piece for the Village Voice, Neil deMause reported on a taxpayer-soaking lease clause cooked up by former mayor Rudy Giuliani during his final week in office in 2001. Your big-money lobbyists who pressured city and state officials to approve the stadium plan were actually paid for by city taxpayers. That lease clause allowed you to deduct up to $5 million a year in "stadium planning" costs from your current Yankee Stadium rent payments to the city. Apparently, lobbying elected officials for public money and approval of the stadium deal counts as "stadium planning."
And while you claim to be paying for the vast majority of the $1.3 billion stadium project, it turns out your share really comes to about $492 million, according to deMause. In addition to the $422 million public cost, about $136 million would come from subtracting stadium construction debt from your gross revenuesmoney that you are allowed to withhold from your revenue-sharing responsibility to Major League Baseball. And private developers are paying $250 million toward parking garages.
And finally, what you are "giving" the fans of the Yankees is four thousand fewer seats per game, higher ticket prices, and a wrecking ball to history. What's left of affordable seats would be placed much farther away from the field, above and behind the luxury suites and club seats that would become the priority. Average fans would long for the days of the wonderfully intimate upper deck at Yankee Stadium.
From the days of Ruppert and Huston to present, fans have watched historic games at Yankee Stadium and collected memories that will stay with them forever. They watched the likes of my own childhood hero, Lou Gehrig, along with Babe Ruth, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris, Reggie Jackson, and Don Mattingly. They witnessed the month of October like no other fans have.
Instead of destroying a national treasure like Yankee Stadium to build yet another replica of everyone else's new stadium/"mallpark," you should use those private funds that you've been publicizing and make the needed updates and improvements to Yankee Stadium that would fulfill contemporary requirements and deepen historic roots. Nothing can compare to the real thing, and there is nothing that a new stadium can provide that Yankee Stadium cannot. You have the opportunity to make a great shrine of the national pastime even better, as was done for Fenway Park in Boston.
If you truly believe in the extraordinary relationship between the Yankees and the community that has made the franchise so special, then you can surely respect the virtues of historic preservation and its benefits to society. Preservation is good business and contributes much to the quality of peoples' lives. Yankee Stadium is a perfect example, as it maintains a link with New York's past and connects the citizens with the experiences of the people who came before them, in turn giving us a better understanding of our connectedness. When such an amazing part of Americana as Yankee Stadium is destroyed, all the lessons that it has offered are mostly forgotten and lost over time.
Would your conscience be clear as you repay this peerless ballpark by leveling it? It's not too late. You still have the chance to do the right thing.
RALPH NADER is a consumer advocate, lawyer, author, and founder of many
citizen action organizations. This article was adapted from a letter that he
submitted to several New York newspapers, all of which declined to publish it.
© 2006 Ralph Nader
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