The New York Yankees and politicians broke ground on Wednesday on a stadium project across the street from The House That Ruth Built.
In front of a huge rendering of the new Yankee Stadium, team owner George Steinbrenner, Governor George Pataki, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and others donned Yankees hard hats and plunged their shovels into some loosened dirt.
Hall of Famer Yogi Berra, superfan Billy Crystal and dozens of politicians and team officials watched from a small grandstand. Pataki said fans "will be entering an icon" when they come to Yankee games starting in 2009, just as he did when he first visited Yankee Stadium 50 years ago.
Yankees president Randy Levine called the project "the continuation of a great legacy."
Bloomberg said it would "symbolize the resurgence of the South Bronx."
During 90 minutes of speeches, only Steinbrenner, who complained of the heat, was brief.
"It's a pleasure to give this to you people," he said. "Enjoy the new stadium. I hope it's wonderful."
The ceremony came a day after a state Supreme Court judge denied opponents a temporary restraining order that would have blocked construction.
He found there was no legal bar to cutting down trees to permit a project that benefits the city and the community.
The 53,000-seat, open-air ballpark will replace one of the most famous sports arenas in the world, home to the Yankees since 1923, when it was christened with a Babe Ruth home run on opening day.
The existing stadium, though renovated in the 1970s, is the third-oldest ballpark in the major leagues, trailing only Boston's Fenway Park (1912) and Chicago's Wrigley Field (1914).
The city and state are contributing more than US$200 million to the project, including infrastructure improvements.
The Yankees will pay the rest, financed through both taxable and tax-exempt bonds.
Until about a dozen years ago, Steinbrenner had denigrated the neighborhood as dangerous and threatened to move the team to Manhattan or northern New Jersey. But the Yankees expect to draw more than 4 million fans to the stadium this year, making it the eighth consecutive season topping 3 million.
The new stadium will have fewer seats than the current capacity of 57,478, but more luxury boxes.
Construction of the new stadium will involve paving over large portions of nearby Macombs Dam Park and Mullaly Park, and cutting down about 400 mature oak trees. The Yankees are to offset the loss of the parks by building new parkland including three ballfields at the site of the current Yankee Stadium.
Bloomberg and most of the city's elected officials are solidly behind the new stadium. Backers say the project will create an estimated 3,600 construction jobs and 900 permanent jobs.
But the plan met with opposition from some South Bronx neighbors and from parks advocates.
Geoffrey Croft, president of New York City Parks Advocates, said the stadium foes would appeal Tuesday's ruling and file a federal lawsuit.
"The Yankees were never required to consider practical alternatives to the taking of park land," Croft said.