In 2009, the new Yankee Stadium opened, replacing what used to be a park. Since the Yankees were getting public land, the city said they needed to give back something. How did that go? Journalism students at CUNY Lehman college investigate.

Adi Talwar

Yankee Stadium in the Bronx.


This story is the third installment in a City Limits’ series exploring the role of Community Benefits Agreements (CBAs) in New York land use and development. Read the first installment here. Read the second installment here.

In 2009, the new Yankee Stadium opened, replacing what used to be a park. Since the Yankees were getting public land, the city said they needed to give back something. How did that go? Journalism students at CUNY Lehman college investigate.

This audio story was produced by Lehman students Leslie Almanzar, Ashley Castillo, Elias Dominguez, Giulia Gionta, Victor Marinez, Michelle Martinez, Tiana Ramirez, Anni Nicole Rubio Reyes. It was overseen by Professor Eileen Markey and engineered by Professor Steven Buonanotte.

Listen to the piece or read the transcript below.


TRANSCRIPT:

Tiana Ramirez: I’m standing on the platform of the 4 train at 161st Street.

Elias Dominguez: That’s Yankee Stadium.

Tiana Ramirez: You used to be able to see the games, part of them, from the platform here. 

Elias Dominguez: Not anymore. In 2009 the new Yankee Stadium opened. It’s just across one-six-one from the old stadium. 

Tiana Ramirez: If we walk up the platform a minute we can see it. I can’t see into the stadium. I can just see into this restaurant, white table cloths, linen napkins folded nicely. Fancy wine glasses at the place setting.  

Elias Dominguez: Looking north you can see where the field is. But it’s blocked. All I see is a really high wall.

Victor Marinez: The Yankees have been in the Bronx since 1923. That’s almost a hundred years. They’re called the Bronx Bombers and – along with hip-hop and the Bronx Zoo – are the most famous thing about the borough. 

Tiana Ramirez: We’re all journalism students. 

Victor Marinez: Curious about the city and how things work. 

Elias Dominguez: We wanted to know what kind of neighbor the Yankees are. The team’s owners lobbied for a long time for a new stadium, saying the old one, south of one-six-one, didn’t have the modern amenities fans demanded. They argued that a new stadium would be an economic benefit to the city and the neighborhood. 

Victor Marinez: People in the Bronx tend to be proud of the Yankees. But there’s a big gap between the stadium and the neighborhood. 

Elias Dominguez: Yankee Stadium is in one of the poorest neighborhoods in the city. According to the U.S. Census, the median household income in the area around Yankee Stadium is $33,000 a year. And it’s a densely packed neighborhood.

Tiana Ramirez: Space is tight in New York City. To get a spot to build the new stadium, the Yankees asked if they could build just north of the old stadium. Only thing is: That was a park. 

Neil DeMause: The bill to alienate the parkland for Yankee Stadium literally landed on legislators’ desks the day that they voted on it, and they did not read it because they were just told, OK, here’s a stack of paper. The Democratic leadership says sign, it says vote for it, you know, go ahead and vote for it and they went and voted for it. So people in the Bronx didn’t even know that this deal was happening until after the most important vote was taken. So that was huge because they lost an enormous amount of leverage.

Victor Marinez: That’s Neil DeMause. He’s a reporter who has covered New York City for more than 20 years. He’s an expert on public financing for sports stadiums. He wrote a book on the topic. 

Elias Dominguez: It’s called Field of Schemes. 

Victor Marinez: And now he’s an editor at ProPublica. 

Elias Dominguez: That’s the premier investigative reporting outfit. 

Victor Marinez: Since the Yankees were getting public land, the city said they needed to give back something. 

Tiana Ramirez: In 2006 they signed a Community Benefits Agreement. It’s a public document. 

Elias Dominguez: We got a copy. 

Tiana Ramirez: The thing is, there were no requirements for oversight. The Yankees didn’t have to tell anyone who they hired, where they spent money or what promises they kept. 

Neil DeMause: The only reports they file are to the Yankees, if they even file reports at all. We don’t know because we don’t see them. There’s no oversight from Bronx elected officials.

Victor Marinez: The Community Benefits Agreement was signed by Randy Levine

Elias Dominguez: He’s the president of the Yankees. Before he got that job, he was a deputy mayor under Rudy Giuliani. 

Victor Marinez: Adolfo Carrion 

Elias Dominguez: He was Bronx borough president at the time. 

Victor Marinez: Maria Baez

Elias Dominguez: Chair of the Bronx Delegation to the City Council.

Victor Marinez: Joel Rivera

Elias Dominguez: Majority leader of the City Council.

Victor Marinez: Maria del Carmen Arroyo

Elias Dominguez: Councilmember for the 17th district, the neighborhood around the stadium.

Victor Marinez: The thing is, none of those people are in office anymore. 

Tiana Ramirez:  It’s tough to enforce an agreement when there was no oversight and when the parties that signed it are no longer around. 

Elias Dominguez: Back when they were negotiating with the city, the Yankees said the stadium wouldn’t cost the public a dime. 

Neil DeMause: When the Yankees and Bloomberg announced this they said the Yankees are building this, and it’ll happen with no public money involved. And the final public price tag was slightly over $1 billion. Which was the most expensive stadium subsidy of any stadium built in the United States up until that point.

Elias Dominguez: Say that again?

Neil DeMause: Slightly over $1 billion.

Victor Marinez: In 2008, a year before the new stadium opened, New York State Assemblyman Richard Brodsky issued a report called, The House that You Built. It detailed the many ways the public was subsidizing the stadium. 

Elias Dominguez: For all that public largesse, some people in the neighborhood around the stadium think the public should get more access.

Tiana Ramirez: But ticket prices vary widely across the season. According to the Fan Cost Index, a statistical publication that tracks professional sports, it cost an average of $340 for a family of four to attend a Yankees game in 2021. 

Bronx Resident: I would say that Yankee Stadium should definitely make tickets more accessible to different communities. Because if you look at numbers and statistics, the people that live in the Bronx might not be able to pay for those tickets. So I would say they can engage in different things such as giving out tickets for free for specific communities so they are able to include the people who live in the Bronx who are not able to pay for those tickets. 

Victor Marinez: Another part of the deal between New York and the Yankees was that the MTA agreed to build a new Metro North station right near the stadium. The idea was that this would reduce car traffic in the neighborhood, which suffers from high rates of asthma.And it would reduce crowding on the subways, while giving local people an extra commuting option.An assistance to the Yankees, but a benefit for the community too.

Bronx Commuter: I take this train to go to work in Yonkers. It’s the easiest way for me to get there. When I get on the train it’s not usually that packed. It’s a pretty smooth ride.

Victor Marinez: A spokeswoman for the MTA said 6 to 7 percent of fans take the MetroNorth to games. Shuttle trains run between the stadium and Harlem 125th. On non-game days, there are 32 trains in each direction. They run every 30 minutes. While the MTA didn’t provide regular ridership numbers, they said “a lot” of people use the station. At $9.25 a ticket from 153rd to Grand Central, it makes more sense for most people to stick with the subway. 

Elias Dominguez: A big part of the sell of the stadium was the idea that it would employ local people. 

Tiana Ramirez: But it is nearly impossible to find out how many jobs the stadium created. The Community Benefits Agreement did not include any reporting or disclosure requirements. 

Elias Dominguez: There are definitely stadium jobs. From front office people like general managers and VPs, to the people who sell beer and popcorn.

Stadium Worker: Supposedly $15, but when you actually see your check weekly, instead of, because they were smart, so that you don’t go overtime. So, their pay date is Wednesday. And you know there is not a game everyday. So when there are certain games, and like it’s usually back to back, supposedly you made 80 hours or 70 hours, you’re not really getting no overtime like you would expect because on Wednesday they start over. And some days, there’s no games.

Elias Dominguez: She works in one of the concessions at the stadium.

Stadium Worker: It’s @&!$ pay. Why? Because it’s Yankee Stadium. It’s the MLB. They make money. These baseball players, they be getting million dollar contracts, thingslike that. To get minimum wage? And it’s not even an everyday game. All the work that we do — for me it’s not worth it.

Elias Dominguez: It was hard to learn about what it’s like to work for the Yankees though. We kept trying to interview people who worked at the stadium — and getting brushed off. 

Victor Marinez: That’s because the Yankees require people who work there to sign an NDA, a non-disclosure agreement. 

Tiana Ramirez: The clearest give back coming out of the Community Benefits Agreement was the New Yankee Stadium Community Fund. The fund promised to give away $800,000 a year.

Elias Dominguez: How much does the Yankee organization take in? 

Neil DeMause: That’s another one of those questions it’s sort of hard to answer because we don’t have the actual numbers. Forbes does a decent estimate.

Victor Marinez: Sports teams are notoriously secretive about their finances. But according to an estimate by Forbes magazine, the Yankees make between $400 to $600 million per year. 

Tiana Ramirez: The community fund does release some information. There is something called a 990. 

Elias Dominguez: It’s a form you file with the IRS. It’s public info. 

Tiana Ramirez: We got them. And read them. Here’s some of the groups the fund gave money to in 2019.

Elias Dominguez: That’s the more recent year we have records for. The fund gave money to: Bronx Children’s Museum, Youth Builder Inc., Lehman College Art Gallery, Bronx Arts Ensemble, Jaws and Taino Little League, among others.

Little League Representative 1 [In Spanish, translated]: A little league baseball organization is very expensive, especially if you go with the uniforms and everything, in total it can cost over $50,000 or $60,000  because you have to get insurance [for the kids]. The bigger league is, the more expensive the insurance. There is the purchase of the uniforms, paying for an umpire is expensive, the trophies, the balls used, a lot is requested. The work that the league does is phenomenal.

Elias Dominguez: The Little Leagues need funds for things other than bats and balls. Bronx parks are sometimes in rough shape. Fields are full of holes, grass grows in the infield. 

Little League Representative 2:  I think it was better because we could use the check for different things, you know what I mean? We could buy uniforms, we could buy balls [inaudible]…we could use it for something else. But right now, it’s only for what they say.

Tiana Ramirez: We wanted to ask how the fund makes decisions. Some of the recipients got more money than the fund regulations say they are supposed to. We reached out several times to Veronica DeJesus, the administrator of the fund. 

Elias Dominguez: She never got back to us. 

Tiana Ramirez: The first administrator of the fund quit, saying the fund wasn’t doing sufficient outreach. 

Michael Drezin: I think the main thing that they should know is of the existence of the fund, that the money is earmarked [inaudible] non-for-profits throughout the Bronx. I think the main thing is that they should know it exists. I mean, it must be obvious to people that know any little thing about this, that it has to be run as an old boys club, that’s just wrong.

Elias Dominguez: That’s Michael Drezin, a lawyer who helped the fund set up its nonprofit status, then stayed on as the administrator. He thinks the fund should be doing much more publicity, so groups in the Bronx know they can apply for funding.

Michael Drezin: Well, simply at the beginning, they solicited applications rather than making a broad announcement to the Bronx saying, look, we exist, and we invite your applications.

Victor Marinez: He actually thinks the fund would have been better run if the Yankees organization was more involved with it. As it is, the CBA required the fund to be independent of the team. The fund is required to issue annual reports though. Drezin thinks those should be public—and readily available. 

Michael Drezin: The CBA calls for an annual report to be produced once a year, as far as I know it’s never been issued and given the fact that this huge money—a million dollars is still a million dollars, to me that’s a lot of money—whether or not they have the legal authority, they should pressure the board to issue their annual reports to the public. 

Elias Dominguez: The CBA said the Yankees would give away 15,000 tickets every year. 

Victor Marinez: Some of those go to schools or community groups. But it’s not clear how those groups get the tickets. 

Elias Dominguez: Or who decides who gets them. 

Tiana Ramirez: When we started reporting this project we reached out to the director of communications for the Yankees. 

Elias Dominguez: We emailed him 13 times. 

Tiana Ramirez: And reached out to another spokeswoman for the team several more times. 

Elias Dominguez: Neither responded. 

Bronx Resident: Neighborhood is good when game times come. Everyone is friendly, everybody trying to get to the game, trying to have some fun. So neighborhood is good. Neighborhood is okay.

Tiana Ramirez: The park they vacated is now a public park. You can stand at what was home plate, just like Jeeter or A-Rod. The Community Benefits Agreement said they’d keep giving back until 2046. That’s 20 years from now. 

Michael Drezin: So in conclusion if there’s anything to be done, it’s to give publicity to the fund [inaudible]…and see what good things can happen in the next 25 years.

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