Yanks Break Ground on $1 Billion Stadium

The Associated Press
Wednesday, August 16, 2006; 4:19 PM

NEW YORK -- The New York Yankees and politicians broke ground Wednesday on a billion-dollar stadium project across the street from The House That Ruth Built.

In front of a huge rendering of the new Yankee Stadium, team owner George Steinbrenner, Gov. George Pataki, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and others, some wearing Yankees hard hats, plunged shovels into some loosened dirt.

Hall of Famer Yogi Berra, superfan Billy Crystal and dozens of politicians and team officials watched from a small grandstand. Pataki said fans "will be entering an icon" when they come to Yankee games starting in 2009, just as he did when he first visited Yankee Stadium 50 years ago.

Yankees president Randy Levine called the project "the continuation of a great legacy." Mayor Michael Bloomberg said it would "symbolize the resurgence of the South Bronx."

During 90 minutes of speeches, only Steinbrenner, who complained of the heat, was brief.

"It's a pleasure to give this to you people," he said. "Enjoy the new stadium. I hope it's wonderful."

The ceremony came a day after a state Supreme Court judge denied opponents a temporary restraining order that would have blocked construction. He found there was no legal bar to cutting down trees to permit a project that benefits the city and the community.

A few dozen demonstrators carried signs and chanted "Save Our Parks" during Wednesday's ceremony, but police kept them so far away they could not be heard by the participants.

The 53,000-seat, open-air ballpark will replace one of the most famous sports arenas in the world, home to the Yankees since 1923, when it was christened with a Babe Ruth home run on opening day.

The existing stadium, though renovated in the 1970s, is the third-oldest ballpark in the major leagues, trailing only Boston's Fenway Park (1912) and Chicago's Wrigley Field (1914).

The city and state are contributing more than $200 million to the project, including infrastructure improvements. The Yankees will pay the rest, financed through both taxable and tax-exempt bonds.

Until a dozen years ago, team owner George Steinbrenner had denigrated the neighborhood as dangerous and threatened to move the team to Manhattan or northern New Jersey. But the Yankees expect to draw more than 4 million fans to the stadium this year, making it the eighth consecutive season topping 3 million.

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© 2006 The Associated Press