Daily News from New York, New York on April 26, 1987 · 50
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Daily News from New York, New York · 50

New York, New York
Issue Date:
Sunday, April 26, 1987
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Sunday, April 26, 1987 ... DAILY NEWS , mm mm PI l"S ww"w ' x ! rt-K 8 Business DAILY NEWS Dirag to baft Fe? toaisoM FROM PAGE 1 A three-volume study released in December by the New York State Urban Development Corp. concludes minor-league baseball can succeed in the borough as part of a sports complex that could be the linchpin of redevelopment plans for the Coney Island amusement area. The study was conducted by the Pratt Institute Center for Community and Environmental Development; the Eg-gers Group, an architectural firm, and accounting giant Peat, Marwick and Mitchell. It comes at a time when there is renewed interest in Coney Island, once the national symbol for a good time. Now a tarnished relic, its beach and amusements still attract 13 million visitors each year? The sports complex is proposed for a 17-acre site bounded by Surf Ave., W. 19th St., W. 22d St and the Riegelmann Boardwalk, just a stone's throw from the Abe Stark skate rink and the old parachute jump (map). The land is part city-owned and part private. In a borough with more than 2 million people, the UDC study found "a strong market for minor-league baseball," noting Brooklyn outranks most major-league cities in population and Coney Island is convenient by subway or car. At an average $4 per ticket, the study estimates, a triple-A team could average as many as 14,000 fans a game for a 72-game home schedule. Rex Curry, associate director of the Pratt Center and author of the study, says a minor-league tenant would provide the rent and concession income needed to make the complex viable. The Peat, Marwick analysis suggests a minor-league team could clear $7 million on S8.5 million in revenue from ticket, concession and novelty sales after paying rent to the state but before other team expenses, which would depend on the agreement with a major-league club. "I would say, on the record, that it is a pipe dream," says Roger Kahn, author of the Brooklyn Dodgers best seller "The Boys of Summer" and the more recent "Good Enough To Dream," an account of his short career as the owner of the Utica Blue Sox of the Class A New York-Pen n League. It will be tough, Kahn says, I i I TTr 4 ennn.ee AT I 1 17,TO0-SEAT ir-yS Z' BASEBALL sr Boardwalk ? T 1 r1 4 STADIUM L 3 W.!!L,J V I WORLD SERIOUS: Brooklyn leaders are serious about proposed new sports complex for Coney Island (right), perhaps to recapture moments like winning 7th game of 1955 World Series. . to sell a minor-league product in a city that loves superstars. Regular turnover of players makes it hard to develop fan loyalty, he adds. "Carnival promotion is the key" for a minor-league franchise, he says. Attractions like "cheap beer night" and the "Miss Utica beauty contest" went over big for him. William Stern, a former chairman of the UDC who headed that agency during its development of the Carrier Dome in Syracuse, expresses serious doubts about the Brooklyn proposal. "NobodV's going to play baseball in Brooklyn," says Stern. "You won't have consistent attendance nor the corporate crowd. You might as well take the elevator to the top of the World Trade Center and throw a bushel of money off the roof." The UDC study, proposes a sizable state investment, including a $31 million deferred state loan for construction, $16 million in state-backed revenue bonds, a $1.6 million state sales tax rebate and $9 million in sales from the facility's own gate and concession receipts. It estimates the stadium and arena could produce as much as $1.4 million a year after operating expenses to pay off the bonds. , CONEY ISLAND ABE STARK INDOOR SKATING RINK (existing) H ATLANTIC OCEAN Until now, the plan has been a political orphan, lacking a champion public or private with power broker credentials. Although the UDC sponsored the study, it has been slow to act further. Surprisingly, the Koch administration is not yet involved on any level, despite the city's control over much of the land. Ct U the sense we got was I the UDC fulfilled its Jsl. promise to people in Brooklyn to do a study," says one Koch aide. That could be changing. Last week, Assembly Speaker Melvin Miller of Brooklyn, the state's most powerful Democratic legislator, said he and UDC Chairman Vincent Tese have agreed the project is a worthy one. At the very least, he believes the indoor arena will be built, perhaps with a smaller amateur baseball park. Last year, Bartosiewicz was JIM WILLIS DAILY NEWS able to push a one-shot ap-propriation of $85,000 through the state Legislature to fund the Brooklyn Sports Foundation, an organization devoted to galvanizing business support and shepherding the proposal through the government bureaucracies. This year, the foundation is hoping for a $500,000 legislative allocation to pay for a design study and followup economic development reports. The foundation has hired Robert Zieg to handle daily operations. Zieg is a 35-year-old former minor-league club owner who worked most recently for the Yankees. "The Pratt study is just a blueprint," says Zieg. "By this time next year, we hope to have a model and those reports complete." All of which might gather dust if the Mets don't budge from their position. The major-league baseball hierarchy, the commissioner and the National League line up j 7 ( ! " AROUND THE INFIELD: Four leaders on the inside of bringing baseball DacK to me DorougM d.e v. iu . Robert Hess State Sen. Tom Bartosiewicz, Joseph French and RobertZieg. , oehncru.oda,lynews solidly behind the Mets and the baseball rule prohibiting the establishment of a minor-league franchise within a five-mile radius of a major-league city. Publicly, Yankees owner George Steinbrenner has been noncommittal, letting the Mets take the heat. Bill Murray, a top aide to Baseball Commissioner Peter Ueberroth, says he has told the Brooklyn enthusiasts, "I don't see one team in major leagues voting for such a proposal. No professional sports league likes to see its territory invaded. The teams see it as something they have to take a uniform stand on." In an interview this week, Mets President Fred Wilpon said a minor-league team "would infringe upon and take away from the Mets and Yankees; I don't think that's fair." He says sacrificing territorial rights would reduce the value of the franchise, for which Wilpon and partner Nelson Doubleday paid $80 million last year. Some observers suggest the Mets fear a minor-league team in Brooklyn could resurrect the long-dormant demand for a major-league team to replace the Dodgers. "As much as we try to convince them that is not the case," said Joseph French, president of the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce and head of the Sports Foundation, "I really think that's in the back of their minds." To many minor-league officials, Wilpon's stance is understandable but his fear of competition is unfounded. "No one needs to tell me Brooklyn has always been a hotbed for baseball," says Joseph Ryan, president of the American Association, one of professional baseball's three triple-A leagues. "There was a dav when we felt it was cer-tain death to have a triple-A team located near a major-league city, but that hasn't proven to be the case." Harold Cooper, president of the International League, offers two examples of IL franchises that coexist with a major-league team: the Boston Red Sox and their Paw-tucket, R.I., farm club, and the Detroit Tigers and the Toledo (Ohio) Mud Hens. "It's tough to say the (Mets owners) are bad guys," says Jay Acton, a New York literary agent who owns franchises in Watertown, N.Y., and South Bend. Ind., and has just launched a profess-sional rookie league on Long Island, 14 miles outside the city. "They paid a lot of money for that team. But in my experience, a different fan is drawn to minor-league games. The Mets are always going to have their fans." Zieg agrees: "When I started working for the Yankees, a Yankee executive told me the overall market for baseball in the metropolitan area was 3.6 million people, that Yankee and Met attendance would usually be some combination totaling that figure. "But last year the Mets drew 2.7 million and the Yankees 2.3 million for a total of 5 million. V "That universe has expanded. A minor-league franchise in Brooklyn is just going to expand the baseball market and bring more people out." MATT KENNEDY, 82, recalls "in my time, there were three race tracks going full blast ANTHONY PMCATOM DAILY NEWS Coasting back to glory? By SALVATORE ARENA Daily News Staff Writer t 82, Matt Kennedy sees Coney Island as a recurring Lcollision of what was and what is, soothed by an occasional Landing a really big strike with a little ball club I n 1976. Columbus. Ohio, decided it would like a minor-league franchise. So the county bought the Charleston, W.Va., team of the International League and moved it into a renovated ballpark. Harold Cooper, who was - county commissioner at the time, said the county paid $25,000 for the team. "Now," he says, "I think they can get $4 million or $5 million for it." Cooper, the president of the International League, has watched the value of minor- league franchises skyrocket over the last decade. "The value of franchises has gone completely out of sight," he says. The Louisville Redbirds. America's most successful minor-league franchise, sold V, recently for $5.3 million. ' Th Reading, Pa., an AA Eastern League team recent ly sold for $1 million. It was purchased in 1976 for$l. While most minor-league teams turn an operating profit, no one gets rich running a club. - -- . - . . f Ratherfike a good piece of real estate, the value is in the appreciation.. .;," -. ; - "The riches come in the event you want to sell a club," explains George Sisler Jr., general manager of the International League Columbus Clippers. "Owners are making a lot of money if they sell. "People are buying franchises for outlandish prices that are not borne out by the balance sheet I can't explam" the economics of that "It's absolutely ridiculous." .7 ; . . Sal vatore Arena. i' " - I A SURFS UP: Surf Ave. (top), circa 1934, all spruced up and ready for Mardi Gras celebration with former landmark Luna Park, which burned down in August 1944. At bottom left. Surf Ave. as it was in 1912, featunng Steeplechase Park. r.'f 'i -!. glimpse of what may be. It was his birthplace as well as that of the hot dog, the modern roller coaster and the modern American amusement park. Now the vibrant oceanfront paradise of Kennedy's youth exists in shrunken form. His old neighborhood, once marked by neat brick houses and a bustling shopping strip, bears deep scars from three decades of economic decline. "In my time, there were three race tracks going full blast," muses Kennedy, the long-time executive secretary of the Coney Island Chamber of Commerce. "The ocean attracted affluent crowds who supported a gaslight district of cabarets and elegant hotels. There were 47 bathhouses in those days, with lockers and steam rooms. Every kid worked in the bathhouses during summers." Coney Island's golden years reached into the 1950s. But times and the area have changed. Still, every year people come to Coney Island by the millions, attracted for the same old reasons the well-kept beach, the amusements, the aquarium and Nathan's Famous. According to the local Chamber of Commerce, more than 13 million people came out to Coney last year, including 2 million-plus for an air show on Fourth of July weekend. " But the residential section, an area where 38 of the residents receive some public assistance, still is struggling economically. Planners say the construction of high-rise public housing in the 1950s and '60s transformed Coney Island, as white residents fled while poor blacks and Hispanics moved in. Mermaid Ave., once lined with 400 stores, today has . fewetthari 40.' " -, ' ' " ' A recent upturn here has been marked by the construction of several hundred single-family homes built by private developers subsidized by the city. More homes are scheduled to be built The proposed sports complex (including the minor-league baseball stadium), would, according to its proponents, bring $32 million a 'year into the local economy while creating 555 construction jobs and 570 permanent jobs. Among the encouraging projects being proposed for Coney Island: A $55 million redevelopment of Steeplechase Park into a spanking new amusement attraction by millionaire fast-food franchiser Horace Bullard, founder of Kansas Fried Chicken stores. A $1.5 million reconstruction of Surf Ave. from W. Eighth St. to W. 17th St. The city Parks Department plans to spend $9 million for capital improvments to the boardwalk, beach and the Abe Stark rink. An appropriated $16 million for the construction of a new Sanitation Department garage and district headquarters. The Department of City Planning is working on the commercial revitalization of Mermaid Ave. Although in its formative stages, a Parks Department study proposed a wide-ranging redevelopment plan for Coney Island that would include redesigning Coney's entryway and restoring the ocean block of Surf Ave., Bowery St., the amusement area's midway and other areas. Brooklyn city planner Wilbur Woods says a ball team, sports . complex and related developments "would have a positive effect on Coney Island and mean what Yankee Stadium means to that section of the Bronx.". Matt Kennedy says he 'would like to see it happen.

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