Last Friday, just one day after a heavily attended public hearing, the New York City Industrial Development Agency (IDA) approved hundreds of millions of dollars in additional tax-free bonds for new stadiums for the New York Yankees and New York Mets. Adding in the subsidies approved in 2005, this brings the total public cost of the new Yankee Stadium well above $1 billion and the Mets’ new Citifield Stadium to over $600 million.
The IDA’s approval came despite increased media attention and new opposition to the city’s deal with the Yankees. Over the past several months, the Yankees’ plea for more public assistance has been met with increasing opposition, extending well beyond those of us who have long been demanding more transparency to the public giveaways for the new Yankee Stadium project.
After receiving wide support from New York City’s daily newspapers in 2005, criticism of the project has grown among major media sources. While The New York Times had been mostly silent on the public finances of the stadium subsidies, last week its editorial board called on the city to renegotiate the Yankees deal before providing the team with more financing. And reporters who have long been critical of the project, like Juan Gonzalez of the Daily News, joined Neil deMause and Patrick Arden to continue to question the additional subsidies. Gonzalez even had extra fodder when project documents revealed that the Yankees wanted more money for improved video boards, suite upgrades and “fancy johns.”
Two New York politicians who initially voted in favor of the Yankees project also stand out: State Assembly Member Richard Brodsky, whose recent sparrings with city officials and the Yankees’ Randy Levine has garnered wide attention, and New York City Comptroller William C. Thompson, Jr. Last year, Assembly Member Brodsky joined U.S. Representative Dennis Kucinich, chair of the Domestic policy Subcommittee, in investigating the financing scheme that allowed the city to provide the Yankees with $942 million in tax-free bonds in 2006. And more recently, Comptroller Thompson, a member of the IDA’s Board of Directors, spoke out against additional subsidies for the Yankees. In deviating from standard IDA practice, where the Board unanimously approves most proposals before it, Comptroller Thompson voted against additional financing for the Yankees.
While it was refreshing to see IDA board members debate at last Friday’s meeting, it’s disconcerting to those of us concerned with transparency and accountability that the projects moved forward. One of the many reasons is that Representatives for the Yankees and Mets each made presentations during the hearing, though by the IDA’s own rules comments in favor or opposition to projects are limited to public hearings.
Despite increasing opposition to public financing for the new Yankee Stadium, the city has continued to let the Yankees play by their own rules.