-PHOTO SLIDESHOW BY ADI TALWAR
Yesterday, a group of South Bronx activists braved the oppressive afternoon heat to re-energize a campaign to hold the Yankees baseball club accountable for promises they made to community for the right to build a new $1.5 billion stadium on public parkland.
In exchange for taking its parkland, soaking up taxpayer dollars (in the form of subsidies and tax breaks) and bringing more traffic congestion and parking woes to the area, the Yankees (and the city which backed the project) promised to provide local jobs, quickly restore parkland and give back money to community groups and programs on annual basis.
But the local jobs didn't materialize. Replacement parks haven't been built, mostly because the old stadium (where the new parks are to be built) is still standing and collecting moss. And the money, which is being dispersed through a specifically-created nonprofit fund, has been slow in getting back into the community, not to mention racked by controversey and possible corruption.
"All we're asking is that they be good neighbors," said Ramon Jimenez, one of the organizers of the protest who has helped create a short-hand friendly group called 4DSBxCoalition (For the South Bronx Coalition). "They promised everything. They have given us nothing."
Jimenez is a Harvard-educated lawyer with offices in South Bronx. Last year, Times reporter David Gonzalez wrote about how Jimenez, a longtime Bronx activist, was critical of Assemblyman and then-Democratic County Chair Jose Rivera who was facing challenges to his leadership of the party. Rivera's since been ousted as party chair and Jimenez is now back taking on the powers that be.
"We want to revitalize this whole [Yankee Stadium and the lack of community benefits] issue," Jimenez said, sweating in his suit underneath the 4-Train line on 161st Street and River Avenue, along with about 30 equally sweat-soaked supporters.
Specifically, the Jimenez and the Coalition, which held a similar protest at the new stadium in early June, want: the old stadium torn down by the end of the year; one represtentative of their organization on the advisory board that distributes the $800,000 in community funds; the replacement parks to be built safe and green (no artifical turf, they say); and for the community to share in the profits of memorabilia sold from the old stadium.
(The city sold the Yankees the rights to all the memorabilia for $11 million earlier this year. Some say this was a good deal for the city, but it's unclear if that money will go back into the community in any way. )
Hector Soto, another lawyer who helped organize the protest, said, "We're trying to re-energize a campaign that was started by the community before the stadium was even built. The issues were never addressed . . . the community has not been compensated at all."
"It's about respect," Soto said later.
The Coalition created a Web site to highlight all the Yankees' broken promises.
Others in attendance included a host of other recognizable faces, including Rafael Alequin-Martez, a blogger/activist/journalist who got into a dust up with Pedro Espada's son during the state senator's campaign last year. (Alequin-Martez refused a judge's plea offer of restitution for his busted camera and is holding out for harassment and assault charges, he says.)
Also marching with the Coalition was the dapper young City Council candidate, Carlos Sierra, who is challenging Helen Foster in the 16th District, which includes both stadiums, and Public Advocate candidate Norman Siegel. Joyce Hogi, a longtime critic of the new stadium and its gobbling of parkland, was also there. A Green Party member, Tom Syracuse, railed against the new Yankee Stadium, not to mention all the mainstream politicians who allowed it to be built.
Meanwhile, dozens of tourists, looking for a glimpse inside one of the world's most expensive sports complexes, continued to side-step the protest and enter the stadium.