A new minor-league baseball team is gearing up to move into the old home of the Staten Island Yankees — but not before the city spends over $8 million to get the waterfront stadium back into playing shape.
As New Yorkers voted in Tuesday’s primary, New York City Economic Development Corporation approved the funds, which are part of the deal to lure a team from the quirky Atlantic League to Richmond County Bank Ballpark. Also on tap for the 7,171-seat ballpark: concerts and other events.
“Negotiations are nearly complete,” Orion Hinkley, an assistant vice president at NYCEDC, said during Tuesday’s meeting.
He added that the goal was to bring “an affordable baseball experience in 2022” to the stadium, located near the St. George Ferry Terminal.
Not much — not even a team name — is known about the ballclub, to be owned by an entity called Staten Island Entertainment LLC.
But it’s clear taxpayers will be shelling out some big bucks long before the first cry of “Play ball!”
Some $6 million has been earmarked to replace the current seats and field, while another $2,355,000 will go towards paying off past and future upkeep costs, including water, sewer and gas bills.
In March, the NYCEDC approved giving $567,873 in upkeep costs to Nostalgic Partners, the owners of the defunct Staten Island Yankees, to push them into reassigning the lease to a team in the Atlantic League more quickly, according to Hinkley.
After canceling last season due to the pandemic, Staten Island Yankees officials later announced they were giving up on the Baby Bombers for good in December after the MLB sliced the number of its affiliated minor league teams.
Staten Island Borough President James Oddo also previously told THE CITY that NYCEDC was in talks with the Atlantic League.
League of Their Own
The Atlantic League –– an eight-team league that is expanding and has made headlines by signing former pros — plays 60 home games a season. That’s a significant uptick from the 38 home games the stadium hosted when the Staten Island Yankees were part of the short-season NY-Penn League, a first-step to the big leagues.
In addition to more home games, the new baseball team will have to host at least six community events every year to further promote use of the stadium, which opened in 2001 after being built with taxpayer dollars.
“They can also host revenue generating events such as concerts,” said Hinkley.
The 24-year-old Atlantic League, which plans to expand from eight to 12 teams over the next few years, includes the Long Island Ducks in New York and also has teams in Pennsylvania, Maryland and North Carolina, among other states.
In the early 2000s the league recruited controversial stars like Jose Canseco, who wrote about his use of steroids in his 2005 tell-all book “Juiced,” and former Atlanta Braves reliever John Rocker, who became a New Yorker pariah for his homophobic and anti-immigrant rants.
The league also has some rules that differ from standard play, such as allowing players to steal first base on any wild pitch and limiting catcher visits to a pitcher on the mound. MLB teams up with the league to experiment with rule changes and new equipment.
Last year, the Staten Island Yankees were having conversations with professional soccer and rugby teams about renting the stadium.
Staten Island Entertainment LLC was registered with New York’s Department of State in February, about a month before NYCEDC acknowledged that the Yankees’ owners were approached by an “entity” to take over the ballpark.
Eric Shuffler, a principal at a New Jersey-based governmental affairs firm called River Crossing Strategy Group, was listed as the LLC’s representative. Shuffler didn’t return calls from THE CITY.
A spokesperson for NYCEDC didn’t answer questions about Staten Island Entertainment LLC.
More Funds for Embattled Wheel
Aside from okaying financial incentives for a new baseball team, NYCEDC also approved $1.1 million to help maintain the site of the New York Wheel, a proposed megaproject on city-owned land that was supposed to rival the London Eye and spur economic development on Staten Island. The project died in 2017 after burning through hundreds of millions of dollars and only has four base parts and a parking garage to show for it.
The payments suggest that NYCEDC hasn’t turned a blind eye on the struggling development efforts on Staten Island’s North Shore. Together, five projects collectively represent over $1 billion in development that remains half-finished at best, in the area around the St. George Ferry Terminal.
The wheel’s garage site has been closed since May 2020 and NYCEDC noted in its agenda that the city funds, which bring the contract for the wheel’s initial developer Gilbane Building Company, up to $5 million, will allow the parking garage to resume operations.
The nearby Empire Outlets mall still has numerous closed and empty storefronts and its entire top floor, which was supposed to boast a food and beverage deck with sweeping views, is shuttered. And Lighthouse Point, a development next to the ferry terminal, has halted construction. Another glossy rental development in Stapleton hasn’t started construction on its second phase.