Yesterday, news broke that the company behind several taxpayer-supported parking garages at the Bronx’s Yankee Stadium has defaulted on its debt obligations. The garages were built with $39 million in city aid, and New York City also put an additional $195 million into relocating parks displaced by stadium infrastructure (legally, parkland taken by private projects must be replaced).
The news was not unexpected. When stadium plans surfaced last decade, a diverse coalition of advocates objected to the installation of garages on city parkland, arguing that new parking was unnecessary, that the plan “prioritizes parking garages over parks,” that it neglected public transit, and that it ignored the South Bronx’s high asthma rates (which are exacerbated by automobile traffic). People had been getting to the old Yankee Stadium fine without new parking facilities, so there was little reason to expand parking capacity, especially at the cost of neighborhood parks. Nonetheless, the garages were built with taxpayer support.
Several years later, the garages have not been even close to operating at capacity. Bloomberg Businessweek reported earlier this month:
The combined average occupancy at the parking facilities is 43 percent, according to a Sept. 11 filing. …[In] 2007, the nonprofit projected an 88 percent occupancy rate.
Meanwhile, the transit stations near Yankee Stadium have been an enormous success. A Metro-North station that was added to the stadium area—in no small part due to local advocates’ hard work—has been extremely popular, with over 5,100 fans taking Metro-North to the Yankees’ home opener this year. At the 161st Street-Yankee Stadium subway stop, annual ridership has risen by 2.3% since 2009, when the new stadium opened.
While the Yankees and Brooklyn Nets already have new homes, several arena-related projects in the tri-state area should take heed of Yankee Stadium’s lesson: investments in transit pay off, while parking may not. In New Jersey, project developers have yet to publicly commit to funding transit to the American Dream megamall complex, which will open next to the Jets’ and Giants’ Metlife Stadium. In Queens, an emerging plan for a Flushing Meadows Corona Park soccer stadium mentions a need for 4,100 parking spots, but it’s unclear whether or not there would be investment in transit (there are also rumblings of an expansion of tennis facilities in the area, which could include new parking structures). As the Brooklyn Nets settle into the Barclays Center, American Dream’s future comes into focus, and stadiums throughout the region assess their customers’ needs, arena developers must heed the strong demand for transit access and active transportation facilities in today’s cities.