Monday is Opening Day for the 2006 Yankee baseball season. But WNYC's Brian Lehrer - a lifelong Yankee fan and partial season ticket holder - will be rooting against George Steinbrenner's team in a more important competition off the field this week.
LEHRER: On Wednesday, the New York City Council is expected to vote on the Yankees plan for a new stadium. It's gotten little attention in the press, but area residents, led by their local community board, are fighting hard to stop it. And they have some good reasons to object. Here are five:
Number one: the neighborhood just north of the Stadium today has blocks of continuous parkland. But the Yankees want to move the Stadium north by a block, and install replacement parkland where the Stadium is now, breaking up the greenbelt. Imagine if they proposed breaking up Central Park with some new building and moving the rest IT further south. The city would never stand for it.
Two: The current stadium has no apartment buildings right across the street from it. The new stadium would, both east and west. That's a big hit to the quality of life of the people who live in those buildings, which now face the park. Imagine the outcry if the city proposed doing THAT to the residents of Central Park West.
Three: The Yankees want new parking garages with a total of 3,000 more parking spots. Residents say that's not fair in an area that already has one of the highest asthma rates in the nation. The Yankees should be making it HARDER to bring a car to the ballpark, not easier.
That leads to objection number four. There had been talk of building a Metro North station by the stadium, to serve the neighborhood and induce more fans to come by train. The tracks run by there anyway. But so far, no commitment from the Yankees or the MTA.
And objection number five is about something Mr. Steinbrenner knows well: money. While he is promising millions for neighborhood improvements, many MORE millions of TAXPAYER dollars would be spent on the infrastructure around the ballpark, and to let the Yankees pay off big loans in lieu of taxes.
On my weekday call-in show, I asked Bronx Boro President Adolfo Carrion - a supporter of the Stadium plan - why the richest team in sports needs ANY taxpayer subsidies. He made it sound like the city has no choice.
CARRION: What the city does every time it wants to keep someone here - and it's done in New York and it's done all across the country - when you want to make your city attractive to a business is you create a certain number incentives, and we've done it and it's obviously nothing new.
LEHRER: But the truth is, there is no reason to believe Steinbrenner would take his Yankees and run. And for what? The neighborhood doesn't care if George wants a new stadium with fancy high-priced luxury boxes. Mostly, they just want him to tear it down and rebuild in place. That would only inconvenience the team - causing it to play out at Shea for a few years, like they did in the 70s, the last time the stadium was modernized. But permanent losses for the people of the Bronx seem to matter less than a temporary headache for The Boss.
In my opinion, City Council should defeat the current plan and negotiate a better deal.