Mystery of Stadium Funds Continues
Nearly a month after Mayor Bloomberg issued his preliminary capital budget, the mystery over cost overruns for the city's stadium projects remains. The mayor, it now appears, has attempted to tack on somewhere between $140 million and $226 million in added spending for the Nets, Mets, and Yankees projects—all without notifying the city council, let alone the general public.
To recap: When the sports troika was approved last year, the city indicated that taxpayers would be on the hook for $160 million in land and infrastructure costs for the new Yankees stadium (already a last-minute lineup substitution for the initial $135 million price tag), $98 million for the Mets, and $100 million for Bruce Ratner's Atlantic Yards project, which includes a basketball arena to bring the Nets to Brooklyn. (State spending and tax breaks would add at least another half-billion to the overall public tab.) In the mayor's new budget, however, Yankees spending is now projected at $209 million through 2009, Mets at $172 million, and Nets at $205 million.
The city Independent Budget Office already revealed last month (and city council sources have since confirmed) that the extra Atlantic Yards money is for such things as new water mains and roadways, which somehow weren't accounted for when the project was first announced. As for city spending on the Yankees project, which will pay for building new parkland to replace that obliterated by the new stadium, as well as for demolition of the House That Ruth Built, the city at first insisted that it was still within its original budget.
However, Parks Department spokesperson Warner Johnston recently told the Voice in an e-mail that an additional $35 million has been allocated to the project for "contingency funding and construction-related inflation"—in other words, cost overruns and the expectation of further cost overruns.
That gets us to $140 million. But what about the other $14 million for the Yanks, and $74 million for the Mets, that shows up in the mayor's budget? Johnston referred us to the mayor's Office of Management and Budget—whose officials declined to return a series of Voice phone calls and e-mails inquiring into the mystery money.
City council officials are apparently getting no better treatment: One council staffer described OMB as "stonewalling" the council's own finance staff on the issue. Staffers for councilmembers Hiram Monserrate and Helen Diane Foster, who represent residents around the Mets and Yanks stadium sites respectively, said they knew nothing about the increased allocations.
Lukas Herbert, one of the Bronx Community Board 4 members who'd tried to warn that the city would face likely cost overruns on its share of the Yankees project, says, "This is almost like an 'I told you so' - it just goes to show that once a big corporation like the Yankees gets an approval from government, the cost just goes up for the public." Not that, under the circumstances, being right is much comfort to Herbert, who lives three blocks from the stadium site on the Grand Concourse: "My alarm goes off at 7 a.m., and within five minutes I start hearing the ping, ping of the pile drivers driving in those columns. And last time I checked, the school down the street was still falling apart."