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Chamber defends NY Yankee bonds

Bonds for the new Yankee Stadium sparked a war of words between Bronxites last week. On Friday, January 16, the city’s Industrial Development Agency voted to award the Yanks $370 million in tax-exempt and federally taxable bonds.

The bonds will accelerate construction at 161st Street and River Avenue, complete ballpark restaurants and upgrade the new stadium’s scoreboards and bathrooms. The Yanks secured $942 million in bonds from NYC in 2006.

Sustainable South Bronx, Save Our Parks and Good Jobs for New York protested the vote. Why, the groups questioned, offer such a wealthy outfit tax-exempt bonds?

Because ballgames make the borough a destination, Bronx Chamber of Commerce president Lenny Caro said. Because the new stadium will boost south Bronx business. Because the Yanks are the Yanks.

“For years, the Bronx has been written off for economic development,” Caro said. “Now we have a major corporation, the Yankees, willing to stay here and grow.”

According to Caro, the ball club could have skipped town years ago. Instead, south Bronx merchants are gearing up for Opening Day 2009. Yankee executives claim the new stadium’s construction has generated 6,000 construction jobs.

This spring, the ball club will add 57 permanent jobs, plus a slew of part-time and seasonal jobs.

Not enough, according to Bettina Damiani. Damiani runs Good Jobs For New York, an IDA watchdog. City Hall, she says, won’t push the Yankees to hire south Bronxites.

“What are the long term benefits of this project?” Damiani asked. “The city has no answer. Only the Yankees know.”

Sustainable South Bronx would rather NYC finance “green” job creation.

“Build more parks instead,” said SSB policy director Rob Crauderueff. “Create jobs in the process. Let’s make a greener, better borough.”

Sister Ellen Rita, from the Highbridge Community Life Center, testified Thursday, January 15 in favor of the Yanks.

“Bronx residents are employed at the new stadium, working construction,” Rita stated. “I’m pleased.”

Representatives from Community Board 4, the South Bronx Overall Economic Development Corporation and Bronx Community College’s Project H.I.R.E. construction training program, along with Assemblyman Jose Rivera, also testified in support of the ball club Thursday.

The IDA vote drew attention after Assemblyman Richard Brodsky of Westchester County subpoenaed Yankees president Randy Levine and IDA Chairman Seth Pinsky. Brodsky charged the ball club with secrecy and accused the city of corporate welfare.

On Tuesday, January 13, Brodsky argued that the Yankees and Pinksy are costing taxpayers nearly $4 million in tax breaks and cost overruns.

State comptroller William Thompson also cried foul. According to Thompson, NYC will spend $325 million on replacement green space – $200 million more than a 2006 IDA estimate. The Yanks leveled Macombs Dam Park for the new stadium.

The $370 million in IDA bonds approved Friday will cost NYC $16 million in forgone taxes, zero in capital funds, according to Economic Development Corporation executives.

The city will earn back $8 million in sales and income taxes when fans flock to the new stadium. Once the Yanks make good on the bonds and contribute $10 million towards new Bronx parkland, City Hall will have gained $2 million.

The Yanks won’t be paying property taxes on the new stadium site, but never paid property tax on the previous stadium.

How the additional bonds will be used was another point of contention last week. According to the Yanks, they will be used to complete the new stadium. According to critics, they will be used for frills.

“The Yankees got money again,” said Damiani. “And for what? A Hardrock Café and a fancy television screen.”

Assemblyman Carl Heastie doesn’t mind.

“I’m proud of the Yankees,” Heastie said. “If they want a billion dollar ‘jumbotron,’ that’s okay. It’s their money.”

Caro believes the Yanks are key to the borough’s future. The new stadium’s restaurants will operate year-round.

“If you own a pizzeria two blocks from the new stadium, you’re set for ten years,” he said. “The ball park is magnificent. It will create jobs. I’m not talking construction jobs. I’m talking commerce and tourism jobs.”

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