NEW YORK – The president of the New York Yankees asserted repeatedly at a combative hearing Wednesday that the team's new $1.5 billion stadium — backed by hundreds of millions of dollars in public subsidies — is a good deal for the city, and he accused a lawmaker who offered to fight him of grandstanding for headlines.
The legislator, Assemblyman Richard Brodsky, lashed out at team president Randy Levine and city economic development chief Seth Pinsky, challenging both to a "civil, in-your-face fistfight" over public financing of the stadium.
The Yankees are asking at a hearing this week for another $259 million in tax-exempt bonds and $111 million in taxable bonds to build the Bronx stadium, which must be completed by Opening Day this spring. That's on top of $940 million in tax-exempt bonds and $25 million in taxable bonds already granted.
The cost of the stadium, up to $1.5 billion, includes $1.3 billion in bond financing and $225 million in private funds. It was estimated at $800 million when announced in June 2005.
The subsidies for the stadium have sparked outrage in the middle of a global economic meltdown that has crippled the city's budget and cut thousands of working-class jobs while the Yankees doled out hundreds of millions of dollars for new players. The team, which last season failed to make the playoffs for the first time in more than a decade, signed pitchers CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett and first baseman Mark Teixeira to contracts totaling $423.5 million.
The stadium controversy entered the mayor's race this week when Comptroller William Thompson accused Mayor Michael Bloomberg's administration of mismanaging cost estimates, saying "incompetence" saddled taxpayers with a bad deal.
Bloomberg said Wednesday that the Bronx stadium would reinvigorate one of the poorest neighborhoods in the nation, noting that the city, which owns Yankee Stadium, would have to rebuild the outdated facility completely at taxpayer expense without a deal that combines financing.
"It's been a very good deal for the city before the financial downturn and it continues to be a very good deal for the city," he said. "The only city monies we've put in are the normal infrastructure things, which we would do for any building or a facility built in the city."
Levine and Pinsky sparred with Brodsky, a longtime critic of the stadium deal, over substance and process. They complained that he had subpoenaed them on short notice to testify at the state hearing room in lower Manhattan.
"In these tough times you should be encouraging us to create jobs instead of engaging in political grandstanding that discourages it," Levine told Brodsky, a Democrat who represents Westchester County.
Pinsky said the project would generate positive fiscal returns to the city of nearly $60 million.
Thompson testified he supported the stadium when it was approved in 2006 but now believes the numbers presented to city officials were "grossly inaccurate."
He called on the city Industrial Development Agency to postpone its vote Friday on the additional financing.
Pinsky declined to postpone the vote and called the new stadium "a textbook example" of what's needed to boost the region's economic health.
Brodsky said Pinsky and Levine were "out of compliance" for not producing documents relating to the stadium funding that he had requested.
Brodsky, the chairman of the Assembly Committee on Corporations, Authorities and Taxpayers, told Levine and Pinsky, "I would welcome the chance to have a civil, in-your-face fistfight with either of you."
At the heart of the disagreement was the funding mechanism by which the Yankees will pay back bondholders through an instrument called payments in lieu of taxes, or PILOTs.
"Only this, and nothing additional from the government or the taxpayers, pays back the private bondholders," Levine said.
But Brodsky insisted in a report prepared for the meeting that "taxpayers are paying the cost of constructing Yankee Stadium despite repeated claims to the contrary."
A standing-room-only crowd including dozens of construction workers from the stadium site attended the hearing.