A model shows the proposed new Yankee Stadium, with a...

A model shows the proposed new Yankee Stadium, with a retractable roof, to be built across the street from the historic original. Credit: Newsday / Mayita Mendez

This story was originally published in Newsday on Dec. 30, 2001.

ON THE FINAL DAY of his last full week as New York City's mayor and first fan, Rudolph Giuliani swung for the fences. Although standing in City Hall, he was eyeing the outfield walls in the proposed new stadiums for the city's two baseball franchises. To his left sat a scale model of the Mets' new home, with a main entrance patterned after the rotunda at Ebbets Field; to his right, a mockup of the new Yankee Stadium to be erected across the street from the historic ballpark in the Bronx.

Both sported retractable roofs, options that raise the cost for construction to a staggering $1.6 billion. Giuliani, in one of his last significant acts before swearing in Michael Bloomberg as his successor, said he has struck a tentative deal with the two teams and argued that the city couldn't afford to pass up this opportunity.

"You can't underestimate the value of baseball," he said. "This is a very good deal."

Of course, it has yet to receive the approval of Bloomberg, who distanced himself from the proposal Friday and has done his best to remain noncommittal on the subject until Giuliani is returned to the rank of private citizen.

"The issue is really, 'Can we afford them?'" the incoming mayor said earlier in the day. "I will have to take a look down the road. Nobody knows how deep and how protracted the current economic downturn is."

Even before the destruction of the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, there wasn't a great deal of support for the new stadiums outside Giuliani's office. He has become such an integral part of the Yankees' scene during his two terms he was invited onto the field to celebrate the team's ALCS triumph, and he made a recruiting call to Jason Giambi. Although he has gained a great deal of deserved acclaim for his handling of the terrorist attacks and the aftershocks, capped by his selection as Person of the Year by Time magazine, he leaves longing for a legacy of brick, mortar and steel in the form of pleasure domes for the Yankees and Mets.

It was the Yankees who held up the process to the point where these architectural visions may never be realized. Although his lease with the city for Yankee Stadium expires after next season, George Steinbrenner flirted with New Jersey in the first half of the 1990s, then backed Giuliani's plan for a ballpark over the train yards on the west side of Manhattan. To some, it may seem like a concession that Steinbrenner has agreed to remain in the Bronx, but the truth is, he waited until he had run out of options before endorsing the plan to build on the land now occupied by Macombs Dam Park.

Even then, he made it sound like he was doing the city a favor.

"We're happy to be able to do this for New York," he said as he considered the prospect of a new stadium pushing the value of his lucrative franchise toward the $1-billion mark.

Yes, both the Yankees and the Mets will be sharing equally in the cost of construction, according to the terms of the nonbinding agreements. But it's significant to note that neither organization will be putting any cash down on the project, which the city will finance by floating $1.6 million in tax-exempt municipal bonds. (Question: Do bonds for so large a sum actually float?) The teams will be responsible for paying an annual $23 million in debt service for the first 20 years after the parks are completed, with their outlay rising for the final 15 years of the leases.

If this sounds like a burden, consider the additional revenue raised by luxury suites and club seats included in the construction, not to mention the escalating price of tickets for the average fan.

Where the city is going to find an extra $46 million per year for its share of the debt is another story. In the wake of Sept. 11, a budget gap upwards of $4 billion is forecast for the next fiscal year, and New York faces a massive rebuilding effort in lower Manhattan which may be only partially offset by federal funds. The state may be hard-pressed to justify the improvements to roads and mass transit called for in the agreements.

It is a shame that New York, where people actually care about baseball, does not have one or two new, comfortable ball parks commensurate with those of the Brewers, whose existence is owed solely to the presence of Bud Selig in the commissioner's chair, and Pirates, whose ship sailed more than two decades ago. What it does have, however, is two teams at or near the top of the standings and financial rankings. Certainly, neither appears to be suffering from deprivation in the offseason as they continue to acquire star attractions.

Should the city satisfy Giuliani's edifice complex, baseball might find itself reduced to a two-team competition in the not-too-distant future: Yankees vs. Mets. That might be good for New York but not for the sport.

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