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Recently, I drove 12 hours over two days to take my son, a life-long Red Sox fan, to the new Yankee Stadium to see a game with his grandfather, a die-hard Yankees fan. Their inter-game, pre-game, mid-game, and post-game telephone calls to one another are the source of much amusement for our family, as one is always looking for a way to tweak the other.
New Yankee Stadium stands side-by-side with old Yankee Stadium, on the banks of the Major Deegan Expressway. Next door, old Yankee Stadium is now shrouded in netting to prevent pedestrians from getting hit on the head by a falling piece of history as they dismantle the ballpark.
We got there early and walked around inside the stadium watching batting practice, gawking at pictures of past and present Yankee greats, and touring the Yankee museum. I have to admit, it was pretty impressive. The house that George built for about $1.5 billion in 2009 – with significant help from the city and state – looks just like the house that Ruth built in 1923, only better.
It is newer, cleaner, seats about 52,000 and almost seemed to sparkle on the bright sunny day when we visited. It has all the latest technology and amenities: an environmentally controlled, real grass field; a huge scoreboard in center field that provides a wealth of information, in addition to replays in high definition; comfortable seats; decent ballpark food; the now ubiquitous-in-any-new-public-space shopping mall, and the best team that money can buy. Everywhere we went, there were attendants asking if they could help, offering to direct us.
Outside, the South Bronx neighborhood around the stadium features several new access roads and parking lots, old bars like Stan’s and Billy’s, and souvenir shops. Maybe it was just the beautiful day, but the neighborhood looked and felt better than I remembered it.
In the 1970s, the family of a high school friend had Yankees season tickets and would take our friends when she could. In the early 1980s, I worked as a paralegal for the Bronx district attorney’s office, located in the old Supreme Courthouse that stands at the corner of 161st Street and the Grand Concourse, just up the street from the stadium. On our recent visit, the courthouse looked better too, with its window casings polished like gold.
In the ’80s, the neighborhood was seedy and dangerous. Few people lingered after work or a game to shop or socialize. We walked straight to our cars and drove away as quickly as possible. A few years after I worked there, an assistant district attorney was shot and killed on 161st Street – during the daytime. On our visit, we felt comfortable enough to walk around, while we waited for the traffic to dissipate after the game.
Back home in Portland, I am glad that we spent some money to upgrade the locker rooms at Hadlock Field and keep our Sea Dogs happy. The stadium and team are a good fit with our city. I like the echoes of the Red Sox and Fenway, our little green monster and hand-operated scoreboard.
Meanwhile, for at least the past 10 years, the county and city have been trying to figure out what to do with another prime asset, the Cumberland County Civic Center. It was built in 1977 at a cost of $8 million and seats between about 7,000 and 9,000 people, depending on the type of event. In 2006, it hosted 153 events and 462,000 people.
Like the Maine State Pier, it is a little long in the tooth and in need of renovation, if not replacement. Like the Maine State Pier, we have missed out on opportunities to have non-government entities foot all or part of the bill when the city declined a gift of land and money from the Libra Foundation to build a $46 million, 10,000-seat arena in 1999, and when the Legislature declined to approve public financing for the Lincoln Center project in 2005.
Assets like the Civic Center and pier are important to the life and health of our community. We should have a modern, appropriately sized, competitively equipped, indoor venue for sporting and cultural events that attract thousands of people to our downtown.
We should maintain it, and like Steinbrenner and the Yankees, replace it when its useful life is over.