Bloomberg Adding $226 Million for Nets, Mets, Yanks?
Buried in the nether reaches of the preliminary capital budget that the mayor released last Thursday are some curious details on the three new sports facilities—that's Yanks, Mets, and Nets, for those scoring at home—that the city has in the works. Namely, total city capital funding for the projects appears to now be as high as $586 million—a nearly two-thirds hike from the $360 million (not counting tax and lease breaks) that Bloomberg had promised taxpayers would be on the hook for when the projects were first announced.
Our story begins last Thursday, when Norman Oder of the Ratner-watch blog Atlantic Yards Report noticed something odd in the mayor's capital plan overview: On a page marked "Economic Development Capital Highlights," Bruce Ratner's Atlantic Yards project to bring big-ass skyscrapers and a Nets basketball arena to the northern edge of Prospect Heights was listed at a city price tag of $205 million. That's more than double the $100 million in direct city cash that Bloomberg agreed to spend back in 2005:
Under the MOU, the State and the City will each contribute $100 million in capital contributions to fund site preparation and public infrastructure improvements on and around the arena site, including streets, sidewalks, utility relocations, environmental remediation, open space and public parking.
The mayor's office didn't respond to Voice queries about the discrepancy, but Doug Turetsky of the Independent Budget Office did. The added $105 million, he explains, is for still more infrastructure costs, "some of which might have been on the books prior to Atlantic Yards, but some substantial amount of which is likely related to the scale of the project—such as the need for expanding sewer and water capacity."
News of the mayor's apparent hidden-ball trick provoked outrage at Develop Don't Destroy, whose spokesperson Dan Goldstein fumed in a Monday morning press release, "The ballooning number comes after the project received its only political approval by the State's Public Authorities Control Board in December, amounting to a bait and switch at taxpayer expense." Councilmember Tish James's office is currently investigating exactly where the new funds are headed, and what, if anything, the council can do about it.
Elsewhere in the mayor's budget, meanwhile, projected capital costs for land and infrastructure associated with the Yankees and Mets stadiums—previously pegged at $160 million and $98 million, respectively—are now listed as totaling $209 million and $172 million over the next several years. The Observer's Matt Schuerman first noticed similar overages in last summer's city capital plan; at the time, city Office of Management and Budget spokesperson Ray Orlando claimed that the added funds were a mistake that would be rectified in this month's budget.
Not so much, it turns out. (Orlando has yet to return Voice phone calls asking for an explanation.)
It's all enough to make one wonder if New Yorkers are really meant to know what our elected officials are spending our money on. "The city budgets, while they have become increasingly transparent, still are not organized in a way to allow the kind of public scrutiny necessary to evaluate these sorts of items," admits Citizens Union director Dick Dadey, though he says the problem may be less "intentional effort to obfuscate" than the fact that " our city budget is far more complex than most states'." Council speaker Christine Quinn, he points out, has pressed for more transparency in the budget process; it will be interesting to see if an unexpected $105 million invoice will be enough to get the speaker to start asking tough questions of her pal the mayor over the project that would eat Brooklyn.