By Daniel Massey
Working feverishly in his final innings as mayor to cement one of his most beloved projects, Rudolph Giuliani said Friday he had struck a tentative deal to build new stadiums for the Mets and Yankees.
The new ballparks, both with retractable roofs, would cost a combined $1.6 million to build. A 45,000-seat Mets park would be built in the parking lot of Shea Stadium and a new stadium with a capacity of 50,000 for the Yankees would be constructed in Macombs Dam Park, adjacent to their current Bronx home.
A Parks Department evaluation of the Mets proposal concluded construction of the stadium would create more than 8,300 jobs around the state with only minor adverse effects on Queens.
David Howard, senior vice president of the Mets, said the deal “demonstrates our love for the city and our love for our home borough of Queens.”
But now that Giuliani is no longer running the city, the final say on new ballparks lies in the hands of Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
Bloomberg was absent from his predecessor’s announcement at City Hall and has voiced concern about the city’s ability to help foot the nearly $2 billion price tag for the ballparks.
While Bloomberg has said the city should do its best to build first- rate facilities for its teams, he said limited resources may make new baseball stadiums unaffordable in the current financial climate.
The new Mets stadium will have 11,000 fewer seats than Shea’s current capacity but draw an estimated 1,400 more fans per game, the Parks Department said.
The retractable roof would avoid rainouts and enable it to be used year round for baseball and non-baseball events like concerts, professional and college sports, conventions and religious events.
Mets co-owner Fred Wilpon had architects design a ballpark that would evoke memories of Ebbets Field. After construction, the existing stadium would be demolished to make room for parking.
Under Giuliani’s plan, the clubs would pay slightly more than half of the debt service on bonds floated to finance construction, with the city paying the rest. The city’s share would be slightly less than $50 million a year, an amount Giuliani said the it could recoup with increased revenues from the project.
The deals would keep the Mets and Yankees in New York for at least 35 years after the stadiums are built.
“I love baseball, but I love this city even more than baseball and this is a very, very good deal for the city of New York,” Giuliani said Friday.
But at a news conference earlier in the day in which he was asked about the stadiums, Bloomberg said “the issue is really can we afford them and I will have to take a look at that down the road as the economy develops.”
Giuliani said he opted not to force Bloomberg into the stadium deals. “I could have signed it to make it binding, but I didn’t think that would be the proper thing to do,” he said.
The state has already pledged its assistance toward infrastructure upgrades and improvements associated with subway and highway access to the new Mets and Yankee stadiums.
Under the Mets plan, the city would not make its first payments for four years. In addition to rent, Giuliani said the city would receive 4 percent of gate receipts and 35 percent of non-baseball revenue from the new Mets stadium.
Giuliani has said taxes and other economic benefits would enable the ballparks to more than pay for themselves.
“The city can actually recoup its investment and make money every year,” he said, with playoffs bringing even more revenue.
Giuliani also said the city would save on the high cost of maintaining old ballparks. Under the proposed project, the Mets and Yankees would be fully responsible for maintaining the stadiums, eliminating the city’s current share of maintenance expenses.
In addition, an environmental impact statement issued by the Parks Department indicates the construction of a new Mets stadium would create more than 8,300 jobs statewide totaling more than $466 million in wages and salaries.
But Ronnie Lowenstein, director of the city’s Independent Budget Office, said in an interview prior to Friday’s announcement that ballparks built across the country have not significantly affected the economic development of their home cities.
“It doesn’t have that much of an impact that would in any way lead to big employment gains and tax revenue gains that would allow the stadiums to pay for themselves,” she said.
If Bloomberg agrees to the financing of the project, construction of a Mets stadium could be begin in January 2003 and be completed in time for the beginning of the 2006 baseball season, Giuliani said.
Having already completed a required environmental review, the Mets are further along than the Yankees and a new stadium for their crosstown rivals would not be finished until opening day 2007.
The report suggested the only significant adverse impacts of a new Mets stadium would be increased traffic and the loss of 3,900 parking spaces during construction.
Reach reporter Daniel Massey by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 156.