As Yankee baseball continues without a live audience on network television, Bronx businesses that surround the stadium say they are starving without fans — and receiving little help from anyone.
Leaders of businesses around Yankee Stadium held a rally Thursday afternoon demanding that the city renegotiate the lease and tax deal that Yankee management worked out to stay in the Bronx under the Bloomberg administration. They claim that extra money obtained through the negotiation could help keep businesses surrounding the stadium stay afloat until fans are able to return to the stadium.
But Yankee management countered that they are “committed to supporting their neighbors and community partners, working in conjunction with them to enhance the qualify of life throughout the surrounding communities.” They issued the statement with pages of testimonials from community groups who have received monetary support in the past including the Bronx Chamber of Commerce, City Meals on Wheels and numerous church groups to name a few.
At the same time, the Yankees are preparing to issue bonds to the public to raise a billion dollars in “anticipation of lower attendance in 2021.”
Dr. Carey Goodman, executive director of the 161st Street Business Improvement District, maintains that the Yankees are a “multi-billion dollar business” and should pay more than “a dollar” in taxes and to lease the stadium.
“We need to be here because the businesses in the vicinity of Yankee Stadium are going broke, and the Yankees aren’t giving them any money at all and they don’t pay property taxes and they only pay a dollar a year to rent this gorgeous stadium from the city,” Goodman said. “So we asked them to help the small businesses out, and they haven’t even responded.”
Goodman said the testimonials provided by the Yankees “have nothing to do with the businesses.”
“You won’t find a single name of a business on there,” he said.
“And when they give you the packet with all the organizations they support, it’s less than 1% of what they would have to give if they paid taxes and rent,” Goodman added. “All the merchandise is sitting there unsold – the Yankees are still making millions of dollars off the games because they are getting the revenue from TV commercials and sponsorships – but the stores are starving and going out of business.”
Mike Ludino, chairman of the 161st Street BID, said he’s not only concerned for his own business, but for all the others who might have to shutter for good.
“It’s not about me, it’s not about the BID. It’s about doing the right thing for everybody in this community,” Ludino said. “The Yanks pay $1 a year in rent based on generating economic revenue for this community and the neighborhood – they are operating and open, they are making TV rights, making merchandise money, but they are not generating revenue in the Bronx. This isn’t so much a protest as it is a rally. We want to be partners with them and hopefully they will respond to us and the community. – it’s business owners, our non-profits, its our property owners, our residents, everybody are taking a hit and we meed to get through this crisis and we are hoping the Yankees do that.”
John Bechelis, owner of the Yankee Twin Eatery, said his business is down about 96% from normal.
“Our largest income is from the Yankee stadium, so for us not to have fans it’s terrible,” Bechelis said. “Kansas City [Chiefs] had 14,000 people inside the stadium, but we can’t have no fans at all? Come on, whats going on? This is a cry for major league baseball to step up. They’ve done nothing for all the merchants – not just for me, but all the merchants.”
David Quinones and his wife Evelyn are fans and supporters of the businesses on 161st Street.
“We need to show support for the businesses, especially those selling Yankee merchandise and supply the food and depend on the stadium so much,” David Quinones said. “We are hoping that the Yankees can spare some money, that they give only $1 for the rent every year, and to help these businesses to pay their rent – give it out to the neighborhood kids come on, step up and support the people who’ve been here.”
Brian Smith, Senior VP of Community Relations for the Yankees, said in a statement: “Throughout the New York Yankees organization there is an ongoing commitment to be a productive member of the community, and when faced with current circumstances we ramped up related efforts. In addition to the day in and day out focus of the New York Yankees Foundation to support, develop, and implement initiatives that enhance access to educational, health/wellness and recreational outlets, during these trying times we’ve dedicated millions of dollars in resources and support to assist our neighbors with addressing heightened disparities.
He added, “There is no time to waste, and the current challenges faced throughout surrounding communities fuel our drive to remain steadfast in engaging our neighbors and viable community partners to promote change.”