NYTimes, 10.25.08 Yankees Say They Would Have Left Bronx if Pushed

October 26th, 2008 Posted in Yankee Stadium Redevelopment

October 25, 2008
Yankees Say They Would Have Left Bronx if Pushed
By RICHARD SANDOMIR

WASHINGTON — Randy Levine, the president of the Yankees, told a Congressional hearing Friday that if the city had not issued tax-exempt financing for the team’s new stadium, it would have left town.

“It’s been no secret for many years” that the team would move if it could not save tens of millions of dollars on financing with tax-free bonds, Levine told the House subcommittee on domestic policy. He added: “There was no shortage of suitors. We see ourselves as a paradigm in professional sports.”

Levine refused to be specific about the other suitors, but when asked after the hearing if New Jersey has wooed the Yankees in recent years he said, “Absolutely!”

He did not say if the interest had emanated from the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority, the landlord of the Meadowlands complex. But Carl Goldberg, a board member since 2002 and chairman since 2003, said by telephone, “I’ve never had conversations with any representatives of the New York Yankees about them relocating to the Meadowlands.”

George Zoffinger, the former president, confirmed the history.

Since the 1980s, the Yankees had sought a replacement for Yankee Stadium in the Bronx and Manhattan. And in 1987, New Jersey voters rejected by a 2-to-1 margin a $185 million bond proposal to build a baseball stadium, presumably for the Yankees.

That did not end speculation that George M. Steinbrenner, the Yankees’ principal owner, was looking to New Jersey at least as leverage to get what he wanted in New York.

The allure of New Jersey endured into 2006 — years after the team’s annual attendance reached three million and then four million. In June 2005, at a gala unveiling for designs of the new ballpark, Steinbrenner declared the team would stay in the Bronx. But at that time, the financing deal with the city had not been reached.

In early 2006, the city’s Economic Development Corporation recommended how to make the stadium project eligible for more than $900 million in tax-exempt financing.

In a memo to Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, Andrew Alper, then the E.D.C. president, said the likely result of not providing the tax-free bonds “was the loss of the New York Yankees.” Alper said the Meadowlands “could easily be reconfigured to accommodate a stadium for the relocation of a major league baseball franchise” and that the Yankees’ appeal would let them relocate “within the tri-state area, the country and even internationally.”

Alper said earlier this week that he did not recall the details of the memo or whether the Yankees had made specific threats to move.

After the hearing Friday, Seth W. Pinsky, the E.D.C. president, said he was not in his position when the Yankees were approved for the bonds. “The Yankees clearly were interested in staying in the Bronx in a stadium that accommodated their needs,” Pinsky said.

Levine said he made the team’s position clear during the negotiations that led to the 2006 financing deal. He said in a telephone interview that the team would have acted on options if the Bronx talks had died. “Since the stadium in the Bronx did happen,” he said, “nothing was pursued.”

The often-testy hearing came four days after the Internal Revenue Service agreed to let the Yankees and the Mets issue more tax-exempt bonds to complete their stadium financing and for the Nets to issue them for their new arena near downtown Brooklyn.

Much of the testimony Friday focused on how the city’s Department of Finance assessed the value of the land underneath the new Yankee Stadium.

Assemblyman Richard L. Brodsky, Democrat from Westchester, said assessments of $26.8 million and $204 million, reached on consecutive days in 2006, were evidence that the city had “cooked” the valuations to help the Yankees maximize the tax-exempt financing they wanted. He testified that an “illegal” methodology was used to reach the bigger figure, which was based on far higher land sales for sites in Manhattan, while the smaller one used far lower land sales for properties in the Bronx and Staten Island.

Martha E. Stark, the city’s finance commissioner, testified that the lower figure did not reflect the land’s value with a $1 billion ballpark on it. Her agency, she said, “realized that the $26.8 million value was wrong and that they used vacant land rather than land that had benefited from government infrastructure improvement and investments.”

Dennis J. Kucinich, the chairman of the subcommittee, said the city cited attorney-client privilege in its refusal to provide documents about the changing land values.

Kucinich did not make eye contact with Levine when Levine reminded Kucinich that “the City of Cleveland, while you were mayor and on your watch, became the first American city to default on its bonds since the Great Depression.”


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