NY official probing luxury-box deals

NEW YORK -- When it comes to getting a luxury box at the new Yankees and Mets stadiums, Mayor Michael Bloomberg's aides appear willing to play ball.

Recently released internal e-mails between the mayor's aides, city lawyers and Yankees officials show that City Hall gave the team even more parking spaces than had been negotiated previously, plus the rights and revenue from three billboards near the stadium in exchange for a suite.

For months, the city had publicly played down the importance of having exclusive use of the suite, but the e-mails obtained and released by state Assemblyman Richard Brodsky show luxury boxes in both ballparks were "a big issue to the mayor," as one official put it.

Brodsky is investigating the city's deals with the Mets and Yankees, who are receiving hundreds of millions of dollars in public subsidies for new stadiums that are scheduled to be completed next year.

The Yankees are financing their $1.3 billion park with about $940 million in tax-exempt bonds and $25 million in taxable bonds, while the Mets are getting about $550 million in tax-exempt bonds and $66 million in taxable bonds for their $800 million stadium. Both teams have indicated they will seek more bonds as costs creep higher.

"The only thing missing from the negotiations was the public interest," Brodsky said. "These boxes are perks that the taxpayer pays for and knows nothing about, and that's wrong."

Bloomberg, a billionaire, typically does not sit in luxury boxes when he attends ballgames. He has his own season tickets, and when he goes as someone's guest he pays his way and plans to continue those practices, spokesman Stu Loeser said.

For paying customers, the Mets suites were priced at $250,000 to $500,000 apiece, and are sold out. Yankees suites cost $600,000 to $850,000 each, and a few of the lowest-price boxes are still available.

When city officials were angling for exclusive suites, their list of demands included perks such as free food, the e-mails show.

"Yankees said they don't want to pay for food for our suite," wrote Seth Pinsky, who was then the executive vice president of the city's Economic Development Corp., in an e-mail to Dan Doctoroff, then a deputy mayor. "My position is: if others get food with their suites, so should we."

In a separate conversation, city lawyer Joseph Gunn wrote Yankees officials to say, "if others get food as part of a base price, then so does nyc." It wasn't clear whether the Yankees gave in.

While the e-mails give a sense of the additional benefits the Yankees got from the city in exchange for the luxury box -- like the extra parking spaces -- the deal with the Mets is murkier.

In response to questions from The Associated Press, the Bloomberg administration and the Mets declined to say what the city traded for a box at the new stadium.

"There were discussions about a number of different elements as it related to our partnership, and the suite was just one," said David Newman, a Mets spokesman.

The Brodsky e-mails indicate the Mets resisted the city's request for a luxury box for months during talks in 2006.

"We'll concede if they stop dickering over the luxury suite," Gunn wrote in an e-mail to several administration officials on Jan. 21, 2006. It was not clear what concession he was describing.

A few days later, in an e-mail chain where several officials were expressing their dismay about how the Yankees were balking at their luxury box request, Pinsky wrote, "We're still arguing over how much" the Mets were going to bend in luxury box negotiations.

In April, Pinsky wrote to other mayoral aides that "the deal-in-principle that was outlined was that we wouldn't have a PARTICULAR box, but that we would, on every night, be guaranteed that SOME box would be available for the city's use."

In a July message, Pinsky reported to Doctoroff that the Mets had agreed to give the city a luxury box to use for free during all regular-season games.

But for playoff games, All-Star games and concerts, the Mets were insisting the city would have to pay for tickets at face value.

"Since this is a big issue to the mayor, I wanted to confirm that you would be OK with this," Pinsky wrote.

Doctoroff fired back three minutes later:

"We are giving them how much money? For whatever it is, we should get the tickets for free."

Two days later, Pinsky reported to Doctoroff that there was a deal.

"They are putting us on the edge of the infield dirt along the third baseline," he wrote.