Friday, April 07, 2006

Meet the Mets

As expected focus rapidly shifted away from the just concluded Yankee Stadium deal and gravitated toward Queens and the proposed new stadium for the Mets. The stadium that was unveiled yesterday evoked memories of the old Ebbets Field and brought tears to the eyes of Met owner Fred Wilpon. All was not euphoric, however.

Amidst all of the hoopla was one discordant note. As we have already discussed there is a concern among the Queens council delegation, led in this regard by Hiram Monseratte, that the Mets need to do more to become "good neighbors" to the communities of the borough they reside in.

As an expression of their concern the councilmembers have temporarily tabled the Finance Committee hearing that was scheduled on the stadium funding for next week. As the NY Sun reports today, Monseratte and his colleagues want the Mets to replicate the Yankees' effort in the South Bronx. As the councilman said, "We love the Mets. But we also want the Mets to be good corporate neighbors...The same way the residents of the Bronx are benefiting from an agreement with the Yankees, Queens residents should be benefiting from an agreement with the Mets."

Monseratte's push for parity for Queens and his role in the delayed council hearing did not sit well with Mayor Mike. As the NY Times reports, "The prospect of community groups demanding a Yankee-like benefits deal from the Mets angered Mayor Michael Bloomberg. 'Every development project in the city is not just going to be a horn of plenty for everybody that wants to grab something...' New development, he said, should not be a rush to 'line up to get ransom.'"

Is the mayor serious? The Gateway project the AY project and the Yankee Stadium deal all have a community benefits component. In all of these cases there is a recognition that economic development needs to be accountable, particularly to the host communities. This is especially true when there is a considerable public investment in the deal.

In the case of a sports team the argument is even more compelling. As Andrew Zimbalist, the sports stadium guru from Smith College points out in today's Sun, "the amount of 'trickle down' from the arenas into the neighborhoods is more like a 'light trickle.'" The money flow is more out to the corporate office than towards the local community.

It is also true that a local professional sports team has a different relationship with the community than any other business. Very few companies can consistently break so many hearts as the Mets do on a regular basis. There is a deep emotional connection between a team and its local area fans. It is, or should be, in the interest of the franchise to nurture this relationship and certainly not take it for granted.

Insuring this kind of ongoing relationship should be job one when, as Crains Insider reports, the Queens delegation meets with the Mets today. We kind of like the idea the Andrew Wolf floated in his critique of the Yankees CBA today. A big chunk of any change that is negotiated should go directly in support of the little leagues of Queens, and not into the hands of local pols.

This is exactly what we're trying to do with FCRC, the Brooklyn Sports Alliance and the Brooklyn Nets: a working partnership with the kids and coaches of the borough. This is certainly not any "ransom" but an example of enlightened self-interest.