Photo: David Westenhaver. The Yankee Tavern near Yankee Stadium.

Bronx group hopes to name street for Derek Jeter to boost business

The 161 Street Business Improvement District is pushing to rename a portion of 161st Street after Derek Jeter to celebrate the Yankees legend’s induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

The name change would commemorate the man who played shortstop for the Yankees from 1995-2014, winning five World Series Championships in the process. Jeter’s induction into baseball’s Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York will take place on Wednesday, September 8.

Yankee Stadium sits at the corner of 161st Street and River Avenue. If the name change goes through, the city will place a Jeter Street sign at the intersection.  But Jeter won’t be the first former Yankee to have his name up at the crossing. In 2014, the 161 Street BID successfully petitioned to rename a portion of River Avenue to Rivera Avenue, after another Yankees legend, pitcher Mariano Rivera.

For the 161 Street BID, renaming the street is part of an effort to revitalize a community that has struggled economically throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Major League Baseball went the entire 2020 season without fans in ballparks, and local businesses around Yankee Stadium suffered as a result.

“Yankee Stadium is one of the premier tourist attractions in the Bronx,” said Joseph Mpa, a 63-year-old Bronx native and an operations manager for the 161 Street BID. “Pre-pandemic, you used to see tour buses of people from all over the world coming here, and just going around viewing the stadium and viewing the neighborhood.”

Fans are allowed in stadiums again, but the average game attendance is about 22,000 per ballgame, just 54% of pre-pandemic levels. As such, the neighborhood’s many sports bars, restaurants, and souvenir shops have seen their customer base cut dramatically.

Joe Bastone, owner of Yankee Tavern, a 94-year-old bar and restaurant one block from the stadium, says his business gets half as many customers as it did before the pandemic. Bastone, a sponsor of the 161 Street BID, plans to ask all of his customers to sign the petition to raise the Jeter Street sign on the nearby corner.

Along with their effort to rename the street, the BID brought together a handful of local businesses to participate in Jeter-themed promotions. Customers at a nearby sporting goods store will receive small Derek Jeter posters with any purchase. A neighborhood deli will give out commemorative Yankees postcards with each sandwich it sells. On the day of Jeter’s Hall of Fame induction, the BID will host an all-day block party catered by nearby restaurants.

Cary Goodman, executive director of the BID, hopes the event will provide a boost for local businesses, but his main goal is to bring the neighborhood together. “Our role has always been, from the beginning, to build the community with each other, and the merchants, and the team,” he said.

Goodman says the next step in the renaming process is to get City Council to support the change. Council member Vanessa Gibson will likely need to champion the cause for that to happen.

If they succeed, Yankee Stadium will sit at the corner of Rivera Avenue and Jeter Street. Goodman hopes it’ll be known as the crossroads of the New York sports world.