Yankees Build Giant Dustbowl in Bronx
These days, it takes longer than usual to walk to Geneva Hester's apartment at 1001 Jerome Avenue, because you have to maneuver around a pile of burning asphalt. The pyre is being tended by a small phalanx of construction workers hired to erect the new Yankees stadium where Macombs Dam Park stood for the last century, and it completely blocks the sidewalk, forcing pedestrians into the roadway.
"It takes a long time to get across the street," says Hester, who's lived in her building for 35 years. Sometimes, she says, she has to yell to get the attention of the truck drivers who start rolling in at 6 a.m., obstructing sidewalks and crosswalks alike. More often, she and her neighbors in the Highbridge section of the Bronx just cross in the middle of the block, dodging the cars pouring off the nearby Macombs Dam Bridge.
Traffic, though, isn't the biggest complaint of Jerome Avenue's residents about the stadium project, now entering its fourth month and not scheduled for completion until 2009. No, that would be the dust.
"When you walk out of the building, you get hit with the dust," says Donna Johnson, who lives next door to Hester at 1005 Jerome, an Art Deco colossus ornamented with terra cotta bas-reliefs. "If you've washed your car, the next morning, it's covered with mud." The dust comes not just from the former parkland being excavated, she notes, but from the remains of the massive boulder at the park's west end that was pulverized by workers after the Yankees' groundbreaking in August. "There was one point, I felt like I had a shard from the rocks in my eyes—it didn't come out for a couple of days."
Hester, whose 8th-floor window has afforded her a view of Macombs Dam Park and a distant slice of the Yankee Stadium bleachers—"If they hit a home run, I can hear the cheers, but you have to run to the TV to see who hit it," she says—now looks out onto a vast construction pit swarming with workers. The bam-bam-bam of a pile driver punctuates every thought. Since construction began, she's kept her windows shut tight to keep out the swirling dust. Rain helps clear the air, she says, but then backs up from debris-clogged sewers and create enormous puddles.
Touring the north end of the construction site along 164th Street, where a few remnant tennis courts will soon give way to a multi-story parking garage for Yankees players and execs, Hester notes, "I don't walk on that side because the rats are so fat." Since construction began, she says, overflowing trash cans and blowing debris have been the routine. "I'm from the old school, where you teach your kids to pick up your garbage."
It was just such worries that led Community Board 4 to argue last fall that the city should either rebuild the stadium in place, or move it south and west, away from the residential neighborhoods to the north, where asthma is already at epidemic levels. Those suggestions were summarily dismissed by the Yankees, however—team president Randy Levine insisted the current stadium couldn't be expanded without knocking down the elevated 4 train that runs behind a small stretch of the right-field bleachers—in favor of replacement parks for the old stadium site and at other scattered locations far from where residents are concentrated. Temporary ballfields were promised in the interim, but as Metro New York reported last week, the city has yet to begin soliciting bids to build them.
Also behind schedule are the four parking garages the city intends to build for the Yankees. The state has put up $70 million toward construction, but the balance, now estimated at $250 million, is supposed to come from private developers, and after a year of searching, the city has yet to find anyone willing to take on the project. The Bloomberg administration insists it will select a developer early in 2007, but given that the proceeds from Yankee parking pencil out at a little over $10 million a year, less $3 million a year in rent payments to the city, it's hard to see why any developer would cough up a quarter-billion dollars for garages when you could get a better return by putting the money into savings. This could help explain rumors that one of the garages (possibly Garage C, slated for mapped parkland north of the Macombs Dam Bridge approach currently used by the Yanks as surface parking) will be scrapped. That would make it cheaper for a developer, but also potentially put the city further in the hole if it then can't charge as much for rent.
Add in the $45 million that the MTA now says it will cost to build a new Metro-North station to serve the Yankees, plus the cost of a new pedestrian overpass to span the station (negotiations regarding the cost are "ongoing" between the city and MTA, a Parks Department spokesperson said), and it seems certain the total cost of the Yankees project to city and state taxpayers will be well over $325 million. Not too shabby for a project that Yankees exec Steve Swindel promised last year would be built with "no public subsidies."