Both of the stadiums will be used as the magnets in a development plan that is expected to bring in new businesses to neglected parts of the city. The goal, says Joshua Laird, assistant commissioner of planning and natural resources for the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation, is to use the stadiums to anchor year-round businesses so that the benefits of having a baseball team will extend far beyond the 81 days and nights when the teams actually play home games.
It is a tricky proposition, he says, because baseball stadiums in local neighborhoods usually generate a huge amount of demand for parking and other services when they are in use and then are completely shuttered for much of the year, creating something of a blight in urban areas when the stadium gates are closed. Both the Yankees and Mets are looking at creating year-round stores and restaurants within the stadiums so that there will be some use of the facilities in the winter.
"There is always a dilemma in planning these major facilities," Laird says. "They have an importance to the city that goes beyond the immediate neighborhoods. So how do you recognize that there is a greater importance economically and prestigewise for the city without trampling on the interests of the people who have to live nearby and live with the stadiums day in and day out?"
Steinbrenner threatened for many years to leave the Bronx as Yankee Stadium deteriorated, and his decision to keep the team in the Bronx has huge implications, says Laird, who adds that the Yankees say they are making what is probably the largest single private investment in the history of the Bronx. Their ambitious plans call for a new stadium to be built with a facade based on the original 1923 masterpiece, which has become one of the world's best-known arenas.
"You're seeing people moving into the Bronx now," he says. "The neighborhood just to the south of the stadium is growing; young people are moving in; artists are moving in, taking on some of the industrialized, underutilized buildings. That has happened in every borough of the city but the Bronx; now it's the Bronx's time. I wouldn't say it's happening because of the stadium, but it's [connected to] it."
The existing stadium occupies a unique place in American lore. This is where Babe Ruth hit his 60th home run, where Lou Gehrig told a packed crowd that he was the luckiest man on the face of the earth, where Joe DiMaggio hit in 56 straight games, and where Mickey Mantle and Reggie Jackson hit prodigious World Series home runs and brought the Yankees more world championships. It is also a place where Joe Louis fought, where popes have celebrated mass, where Billy Graham preached to the multitudes, and where Nelson Mandela spoke to a tumultuous crowd shortly after his release from a South African prison.