Are Brooklyn Heights Activists Looking $40M BBP Gift Horse In The Mouth?

Are Brooklyn Heights residents too haughty to share the neighborhood? That’s the tenor of a New York Post article today, which reports the melodramatic account of Tuesday night’s Brooklyn Park Planning meeting. Apparently, several civic leaders groused that the record-setting $40 million donation for a planned 115,000sf athletic facility would be “devastating” for the nabe.

The proposed year-round Fieldhouse near Pier 5 at the edge of Joralemon Street in Willowtown, received a full funding offer in April from Manhattan philanthropist Joshua Rechnitz, which would include an inclined bike track, sports playing areas, 2,500 seats and on-site parking. Rechnitz also agreed to underwrite any operating revenue shortfalls during the first decade of a 20-year city lease agreement.

But some activists Tuesday complained, saying the BBP attraction would draw crowds of unwanted pedestrians and traffic to the quiet streets of the neighborhood. Community Board 2 parks committee member Mary Goodman, who lives a few blocks away, protested, “This would be devastating to the southern Heights. [Joralemon] would become the secret way to get there faster, and in a street full of babies, dogs and people, it would be disastrous.”

Brooklyn Heights Assn. President Jane McGroarty and Linda DeRosa, VP of the Willowtown Assn., also bemoaned the influx of park-goers, according to the Post. Both groups intend to lobby the city to fence off Joralemon Street at the corner of Furman Street, preventing access to the park there. “It’s a very exciting project,” McGroarty said. “But if [the field house is] going to have 2,500 people, where are they going to come from?”

Addressing the concerns, Kate Collingnan, a rep for the nonprofit New York City Fieldhouse, stressed, “Certainly access and traffic will be things we look at” during the city’s environmental review process. In addition, Judi Francis, who has led a fight to keep high-rise condos out of the park, said the plan should be hailed, not lambasted, because it “finally fills the park’s biggest void,” a lack of year-round recreation: “The focus should be how fantastic this will be for all New Yorkers.”

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  • misterbones

    This is less a gift horse than a trojan horse.

    Yes, it’s paid for. But that does not mean Heights residents have an obligation to embrace the plan.

    For those who support this, I’d love an answer: How does an “inclined bike track, sports playing areas, seating for 2,500 attending events and on-site parking” benefit the neighborhood?

  • drewb

    Anything that provides year round activity is a plus for the park. Everything that I read said that while the field house will be “Bike Centric” it will have space for other indoor activities as well. If you don’t understand how indoor recreation is valuable then I’m not sure what to say.

    All city parks have occasional events that draw crowds. Luckily this one is located near public transport for easy access. Still some will drive. As someone who lives at the corner of Hicks and Joralemon, I’ve been concerned about traffic on Joralemon from the first mention of the park design. Early designs specifically prevented car access from Joralemon. As designs progressed suddenly there was car access. I think the cars are there to stay. I’m willing to live with that.

    I think there is a small faction of people making a big noise because they don’t like the idea of outsiders coming into the neighborhood. It’s a park. People are going to come to events. Get over it. I would say Bicycling Events are probably the tamest type of sporting event you can imagine. What’s there to be scared of.

  • Park Lover

    A 2500 seat arena right on Furman St will be more than just a “few” more cars looking for parking. If that problem can’t be solved (and the garage at OBBP is already past capacity on summer weekends), BBPDC may have to reconsider or come up with viable parking alternatives. It’s not NIMBY- but realistic logistics.

    More importantly, while a Field House for BBP would be great, there’s too much of a willingness to sell out to whatever it is that private donors want to do with public space– Walentas bought his Carousel location and dictated the design; now, another donor is being allowed to do the same thing with his velodrome.

    When Don Fisher wanted to build a private museum in the (San Francisco) Presidio to house his art collection, including dictating where it would be sited instead if using other recommended space, the community said the precedent of allowing wealthy individuals to set the rules for public parks was terrible.

    I agree.

  • Promenade Princess

    These “civic leaders” should be ashamed of themselves. After so many years of budget shortfalls, Bloomberg giving & taking away funding, and doubts about whether Brooklyn Bridge Park will ever become a source of pride for the borough, a few selfish loudmouths are worried about their precious cobblestone streets being invaded by “outsiders.”

    This is New York City, folks, not the countryside of Woodstock, New York. The very idea that they would turn down this gift because they’re concerned about “dogs and babies” being wiped out by an alleged stampede of visitors is remarkably short-sighted.

  • Joshua Nomed

    OMG, non-White People may sully the park! Oh. My. God. Whatever will we do? Someone must protect us from the hordes riding their fixies!

  • Cadman

    A few more folk give or take a few thousand ain’t bad. More tourists will bring more money into the neighborhood which could create more jobs and maybe more summer jobs for teenagers and others looking for part time work.

    I’m more concerned with the bike riders on the Promenade and the dog walkers who don’t clean up after their dogs on the Promenade.

    For those who want a private park or no park at all perhaps Brooklyn is not the pace for you. Brooklyn Heights thankfully is not a gated community.

  • Cadman

    Oops-meant to say place not pace.

  • Wrennie

    I don’t get the whole velodrome thing, and I’m a cyclist myself. Those are for fixed-gear bikes, which are relatively dangerous, especially for the unskilled. This is kind of an elitist use of space, since I don’t think many people do this type of cycling, and it’d be dangerous for others to just hop on the track–especially kids. Or uncoordinated, though enthusiastic, people.

  • A Neighbor

    Yes, I think we need to see how space inside the field house will be allocated. I assume most would agree that if 90% of it is for cyclists — and fixed-gear bikes at that, the project is perhaps not the best use of our limited park space.

    The good news is that the donor has said that he plans to make a full presentation and invites community partipation in planning.

  • resident

    The merits of the fieldhouse is one issue. One that I do think is something one could question. I am far less enthused after seeing the designs which are far more bike centric than I would have expected. But, even with that, there’s room for 2-3 indoor basketball/volleyball/etc. courts. That’s something, that when basically given to us, we should gladly accept. And when the financing to run the facility lapses, maybe we can get another donor to pony up and make it much more community-oriented.

    The real issue raised by these community activists, the traffic associated with the “crowds.” First, how much larger of a crowd is 2500 as compared to the biggest movie in the park series? Honest question. Second, it’s never made sense that traffic is a huge concern at Joralemon. It’s easier to enter on Atlantic or Old Fulton. Anyone who would be inclined to drive straight through the middle of the heights, is walking. There isn’t much parking down there. I don’t see why the block would ever see a huge uptick in traffic, and on the many occasions I have walked that block to get to the park, my expectations of little traffic has been met. This issue is a red herring designed by a few to eliminate the walk-through and prevent “certain” people from treading on their precious blocks.

  • Freddie

    40M is a small gift to some people. If it were 400M, maybe the residents of Joralemon would see beyond their own interests.

  • Mary Goodman

    I wish that BHB had reported on the meeting, rather than recycling the Post’s misleading piece. In addition, I didn’t identify any of my volunteer activities, including the CB2 Parks Committee. My concerns about the field house/velodrome are in terms of traffic — car traffic — and nothing else. As the most “under-parked” of all the boroughs, Brooklyn needs more recreational opportunities, especially year-round recreational opportunities.

    My first comment was that I and many others welcomed more active recreation in the park. Following that I cited the long-time promise to the South Heights, apparently forgotten, that retractable bollards would be installed at the end of Joralemon. These would serve to ease all kinds of pedestrian traffic and deter additional car and truck traffic. My comment ended with the very basic,reductionist “Recreation good, cars bad”. Why Is that too hard to understand?

  • peter

    i dont think we have to worry about crowds because 2500 people will never come to watch an indoor bike race.

  • Mark

    I find it ironic everyone is worrying about car traffic when a “bike centric” feature is being added. Parking is already tough on the weekend, it is not like it can get much worse. And it is not like any other event space in the city causes huge traffic issues. People use the subway, it isn’t going to have that large of an effect. Relax…..

    I have been to the velodrome that is at Kissena Park in Flusing many times, and really enjoyed it. It is a good way to show people was fixed gear bikes are meant for. Also the races are really fun to watch. I believe it is a sport kids can and will enjoy participating in.

    And if people want something else, you are more than free to donate $40 Million and have you say.

  • KT

    NYC has become such a bicycle friendly city in recent years!
    Building a velodrome right here in Brooklyn would continue that enthusiasm for bicycling and introduce the “sport” of cycling to so many people. Notice how many fixed gear bikes are on the streets? More than I’ve ever seen before. A velodrome on Pier 5 would be great, and the price is right. The Brooklyn Nets will be bringing the traffic, not a cycling track.

  • Homer Fink

    @mary goodman etc – don’t hesitate to volunteer to cover these meetings… we’re a community blog and all voices are welcome… plus we can always use the help! Seriously!!

  • Jorale-man

    I’m waiting until a formal traffic study is done before sounding off about whether this will bring more cars and pedestrians to the South Heights, which are certainly legitimate concerns.

    It does beg the question, how much of the facility will be allocated to racing bikes and how much is for other sports. Will there be a fee to use the facility or can anyone walk in and start working out? Those are certainly key questions here.

  • Pat R. Ician

    No problem– just move it to Atlantic Avenue where we don’t have to look at it!

  • http://deleted Oops

    Indeed Ms. MCgroarty, where are those @#$%% people going to come from? Perhaps Cobble Hill or Boreum Hil? Or worse, Carroll Gardens? God forbid they come from Park Slope or even, heavens,
    Prospect Heights? Let’s get some recreation, as Ms. Goodman suggests, and just close Joralemon to cars. What’s so bad about that?

  • A math major

    I can’t believe that no one has commented on a few key facts:

    1. The building that’s coming will be almost FIVE times bigger than the building there now. So outdoor space will be lost to this man’s whim of a facility. Do the math suckers.

    2. Don’t be bamboozled. It’s nOt a “year round recreation facility” — it’s an elite bike racing track with a little bit of room in the middle for ONE sport to bd set up at a time… for a price. And that will be in use almost constantly by the local rich kid private schools.

    So really, this is a rich guy buying the use of PUBLIC land and throwing us a fake bone of “recreation facility” abd that none will be utilize almost exclusively by rich private schools and teams from all over tge city — not locals.

  • Elmer Fudd

    Have to agree with A Math Major. The facility is just a slick trick to stroke a rich man’s ego.

    And, it is planned for the wrong place. The current pedestrian traffic on Joralemon Street is more than the very narrow sidewalks can handle now.

  • Eddyenergizer

    Trojan Horse indeed. It’s not like such a facility was in the park plans or on the “wish list” and some philanthropic soul stepped in to make it happen. It is more like the Tobacco Warehouse scam all over again. I am not against a year round sports facility in the park, I think it would be great. I just think it should offer a wider range of more popular activities and be readily accessible to the public. The way it is, seems too limited to specialized “elite” sports to warrant that much use of valuable parkland.

  • Reggie

    “…the long-time promise to the South Heights, apparently forgotten, that retractable bollards would be installed at the end of Joralemon.”

    As I have responded to Mary numerous times, there was no such promise. The environmental impact statement makes only a commitment to consider the idea.

  • Sal Manila

    That nerd should shove his $40m donation if he is dictating what it must be used for. A bike track? Give me a break. The cobblestones on Joralemon are already completly messed up, wait until the real traffic starts.

  • Martin L

    This is a necessary debate. It would benefit if the rabid crazies would not reduce it to a mud-slinging contest.
    Let’s all take a calm look at what a velodrome is really about…namely a handful of obsessed bikers racing each other around and around and around. And crashing at high speed once in a while. That’s it. Oh, there is also a small, chair-bound audience for this so-called sport.
    Now, thanks to the Park leadership, we are faced with giving up limited and superbly valuable park space just because a millionaire loves this super-specialized activity and is ready to pay for it.
    Is this really the best and highest use for a public space with the potential for serving thousands of physically active Brooklynites?
    Or, is it another instance of selling-out our public heritage for a few bucks??

  • Buddy Holly

    Agree with the math major. Just a slick trick to stroke a rich man’s ego.

    And it is the wrong location for such a facillity. The pedestrian traffic on Joralemon Street west of Hicks Street is already causing gridlock. One stopped double-wide baby carriage blocks everything there. Too much traffic to consider. Very bad idea.

  • Livingston

    Uh-oh, when MorGroarty groans, the lawyers assemble. Hope this is not another re-enactement of the Tobacco Warehouse fiasco — which I still mourn as a devastating loss to the community.

    As I explain to my non-BH friends, who cannot fathom all the griping that goes on, the neighborhood is populated with folks who came of age in the 60’s (and those who wish they were there); they will protest against any new development they see as an affront to THEIR narrow, prism-like view of the world, regardless of the greater good to the larger community.

  • Cranberry Beret

    Livingston, then let the velodrome be subject to public hearings and debate, so it can truly be decided if it’s for “the greater good of the community.” Unlike the Tobacco Warehouse transfer to St Ann’s, which was done illegally and without such input. That was the “fisaco”

  • WillowSt.Neighbor

    The guy who is donating the 40 million is a bike enthusiast.
    Does anyone really think that his generosity is not “all about him”.
    There was also a big debate and alot of criticism about “Jane’s Carousel”. Does anyone see the similarities?
    Personally, I agree with the posters who would like to see just plain old regular park land!

  • David G

    I do believe that if Brooklyn Heights was the Upper West Side, people would protest against Central Park being built.