(Bronx, NY - Jim O'Grady, WNYC) In the far North Bronx, near the Yonkers border, right fielder Stephan Alamies of the All Hallows High School varsity baseball team is batting against Mount Saint Michael. This is a home game for All Hallows--but they’re playing on their opponents’ field. They drove 45 minutes by bus to get here. Coach Edgardo Guttierez says the team used to play four blocks from school.
“Unfortunately, the Yankees built their parking lot on the field that we used to practice on," he said.
On the team bus, the players weren't any happier than their coach. "We feel like a bunch of gypsies just traveling all over the place," said Alamies before the other players chimed in: “It’s depressing.” “People want to come see us but they can’t see us. We don’t have a home field, we don’t know where we’re at.”
The team, like the rest of the neighborhood around Yankee Stadium, is still waiting for promised replacement fields.
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But so few Yankee fans are parking at eleven garages and lots around the new stadium that the company managing them may soon default on $237 million in tax exempt bonds used to build them. In an effort to stave off collapse, the garages recently hiked prices to $35 a game. But as of last month, they were two thirds empty on game days.
According to public documents and two separate analyses, the Bronx Parking Development company owes the city $17 million in back rent and other payments. The city is paying $195 million to replace the parkland it gave to the Yankees. And New York State spent $70 million to build Parking Garage B. That's where Derek Jeter and his fellow players park, along with VIP ticket holders. The garage is not open to the public, and allows those who use it to enter directly into the stadium.
Bettina Damiani is project director at Good Jobs New York, a government watchdog group. "It doesn't seem to make sense to publicly subsidize the stadium and also publicly subsidize the parking garages," she said, adding it isn’t just about the money. "This is about the impact it's had on an entire generation of kids who have not had access to open public park space the way they did have."
The new Yankee Stadium is smaller than the old one. But when the team insisted in 2006 that it needed 2,000 extra parking spots, the New York City Industrial Development Agency issued 237 million dollars in tax exempt bonds for an expanded parking system--paving over the neighborhood's only regulation baseball diamonds to do it.
The Yankees insisted from the beginning that they needed 9,000 parking spots, 2,000 more than before. They even made it a legal condition for not moving out of the Bronx.
At a City Council hearing in 2006, Yankees president Randy Levine predicted additional parking garages would bring less traffic to the neighborhood. “By building the new parking spots, the cars will get out of the community, won’t circle around the community and disrupt it, and will go into parking lots," he said. As a sweetener, the Bloomberg administration, pushing the plan, added a last-minute concession: it would build a new Metro-North stop next to the field.
The Yankees got their new stadium -- and their 9000 parking spots. The stadium plan passed the city council, 44 to 3.
In 2006, Speaker Christine Quinn defended the garages.
“I think it would be great if people could go to sporting events exclusively on mass transit but that’s not going to happen," she said. "So one has to, when they’re developing projects like this, have a reality sense of what the needs are as it relates to parking."
But the MTA tells WNYC that more than 50% of a typical sell-out crowd arrives by train, bus or ferry. Many fans who do drive skip the $35 dollar charge for a spot at a Yankee garage and either park on the street or at cheaper lots in the neighborhood. One local garage advertises on a flyer that says, "Don't pay 35 dollars." Its prices start at $15.
Little has changed from 2006 outside the stadium on game days. Traffic cops stand on corners directing the circling cars. By first pitch, every one of the area’s 3,200 curbside spots is filled.
Angel Castillo, a car-owner who lives four blocks from the stadium, sees it all season. “Oh my God, sometimes if I come and the game starts, I gotta wait when the game finished one hour after the game," he said. "After midnight.”
Castillo says street parking is so scarce during Yankee homestands that he’ll leave his car in a spot for four days and pay fifteen dollars each way for a car service to his job as a barbershop manager in the North Bronx.
Mayor Bloomberg says private bondholders, not taxpayers, will be on the hook if the Bronx Parking Development Company defaults on the bonds. On his weekly radio show, he shrugged off the Bronx Parking Development Company's possible collapse.
“The city has no downside," he said. "If they were to go bankrupt, it doesn't hurt us. It wouldn’t be good for the project."
But taxpayers have been hurt.
Back at the game in the North Bronx, Stephan Alamies waits for the pitch. It’s 3-3 in the bottom of the 10th inning. He swings…and the ball is gone. All Hallows wins on a walk-off homer. The victory helps them clinch their division. Today, they’re preparing for the playoffs.