Giant Mistake

Photo: Al Bello/Getty Images

During the final seasons of (old) Yankee Stadium and even the widely mocked Shea, newspapers put out special sections and luminaries gathered to say their good-byes. We were razing the fields of Babe Ruth, of Mickey Mantle, of Ed Kranepool. Even if you disliked the lack of amenities at the old Yankee Stadium, and even if you hated Shea, each seemed worthy of elegies.

No one cries for the Meadowlands. Fond reminiscences of the old Giants Stadium, which begins its final season with a Giants-Redskins game this week, are nowhere to be found. Of course, it’s difficult to muster much emotion for a character-free structure that you could only get to by car or the 351 bus out of Port Authority, surrounded by nary a sports bar or any other contributor to game-day atmosphere. But let’s try to appreciate it for what it is: a bygone civic treasure, in its own way.

Giants Stadium is probably the most useful stadium our area has had in decades, or will probably ever have again. It’s “multipurpose,” a word that has become sacrilege these days—synonymous with an ugly, Soviet lack of ambience. Instead, we build huge shrines to specific teams and sports; one looks at the Oakland–Alameda County Coliseum during an A’s-Yankees game, with its faded yard markings from the Raiders’ preseason game the night before, and scoffs. The Yankees would never share their field.

But maybe they should. In the next two months, Giants Stadium will accommodate six NFL games, three soccer matches, five Springsteen concerts, the 2009 High School Football Kickoff Classic, the New York Urban League’s 38th Annual Football Classic, two U2 shows, and the USSBA Yamaha Cup, a national marching-band competition. It has hosted the Grateful Dead, Pink Floyd, Michael Jackson, the Beach Boys, Pelé’s last game, the “Paradise City” video, and the Pope. Shoot, they might have buried Jimmy Hoffa there.

And guess what? The public barely even had to pay for it. Giants Stadium cost just over $70 million (financed by bonds backed by state racetrack proceeds) in 1976. Many new stadiums are publicly financed by selling the myth—and it is a myth—of utility and profitability down the line. Think about the new Yankee Stadium, built for $1.5 billion, with a huge portion footed indirectly by taxpayers. Besides baseball, the Yankees are allowing Army the privilege of playing one game a year there. But why would anyone else use it anyway? Like its counterpart Citi Field, it’s an ego-cathedral dedicated specifically to the team. And the new Giants Stadium will be more like Yankee Stadium than the facility it’s replacing. Almost finished, it’s costing about $1.6 billion. Although most of that is being paid by the Jets and Giants (with, of course, some tax breaks to sweeten the deal), the design focuses on jamming VIP boxes close to the field, and no one expects the stadium to get nearly the same kind of multipurpose usage of the old place.

There’s no denying that the old stadium was ugly and inconvenient. But many teams with similar facilities have cannily played the public’s dislike of their stadiums’ aesthetics into new digs that benefit their own profit margins far more than they do the average fan. The Giants and Jets look to be heading that way, the Jets having recently auctioned one of their seat licenses—the right to buy tickets in a given seat—for $85,000. Some day, some enlightened municipality will realize that “multipurpose” and “ugly” don’t have to go together. Unfortunately, with Yankee Stadium and Citi Field and now this, New York has missed three good chances to do just that.

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Giant Mistake