In 2008, as the damage from Wall Street’s collapsing house of cards spread through the brick-and-mortar economy, Bill Moyers took an Emmy Award-winning look at the new Yankee Stadium project, seeing in it a shining illustration of our new Gilded Age.
There, in the South Bronx, the poorest district in the entire country, taxpayers were being asked to subsidize the private profits of one of the wealthiest franchises in organized sports. The Yankees’ owner at the time, the late George Steinbrenner, had bought the team for $10 million dollars in 1973, and by the time the old Yankee Stadium — “the House that Ruth built” — was ready to be replaced, it was worth $1.3 billion, according to Forbes.
Taxpayers were promised big bang for their buck, with new jobs and prosperity coming to a neighborhood feeling the full impact of the recession. The claim was considered dubious at the time, and a study conducted in 2011 found that the 3,400 stadium jobs paid a median wage of $10.50 an hour for non-managerial positions. The Yankees, meanwhile, had grabbed $50 million in tax breaks, $326 million in capital improvements, $1.2 billion in tax-exempt bonds and 24 acres of parks that had been owned by the public (after dragging its feet for several years, outrage over the loss of the parks eventually led the city to complete a long-promised facility for local youths last year).
The story is as relevant today as it was in 2008. Earlier this month, Michigan governor Rick Snyder approved a plan to offer $450 million in bonds, subsidized by the residents of Detroit — the biggest American city ever to declare bankruptcy — to build a new arena for the Detroit Red Wings, owned by Mike Ilitch, the billionaire pizza mogul who started Little Caesar’s Pizza.