Field time is not safe for B.P.C. little leagues

Players warmed up on the Battery Park City ball fields on the first day of the 2013 Downtown Little League season. Eight games were played on the fields on opening day. Downtown Express file photo by Terese Loeb Kreuzer

Players warmed up on the Battery Park City ball fields on the first day of the 2013 Downtown Little League season. Eight games were played on the fields on opening day. Downtown Express file photo by Terese Loeb Kreuzer

BY DUSICA SUE MALESEVIC | (Posted March 11, 2015) The Battery Park City Authority has opened up the permit process for the neighborhood’s ballfields, planting seeds of doubt and concern for future field time for local groups.

“We weren’t particularly happy about that,” Anthony Notaro, chairperson of Community Board 1’s Battery Park City Committee, said at the March 3 meeting. “We didn’t see any reason. But [the authority] felt that they were obliged to do it.”

The Downtown Little League, which also serves Tribeca and FiDi, lost some time this season, and officials worry even more will be lost in the years to come.

Robin Forst, vice president for external relations for the B.P.C.A., said the process was opened up so that the authority could gauge the nature of interest in the use of the ballfields.

The authority received requests from over 20 groups, she said, which included local groups.

“Downtown Little League will continue to have a significant presence on the ballfields this spring,” said Forst, who emphasized that around 95 percent of field time during the spring has been allocated to schools and nonprofit youth organizations. The other five percent has gone to for-profit youth groups and some corporate clients, she said.

Andrew Zelter, president of the Downtown Little League, said that 1,100 kids have enrolled this year. Around 1,800 have joined the Downtown Soccer League.

As of now, he explained, the two fields don’t even come close to supporting the two organizations and the loss of time on the field will have an impact. He estimated that the Downtown Little League has about 20 hours less time on the field — but will manage.

“We had access to the B.P.C.A. to address the immediate needs for this coming season,” said Zelter. “To me this is a question about what the future looks like for these types of activities for our kids. We need to understand what the vision is for the future.”

After the meeting, Forst would not say if any more weight would be given to local groups and schools, or what the criteria would be for determining field time.

“Our focus is on youth groups,” she wrote in an email.

At the meeting, she said that the priority has typically been the Lower Manhattan community, but the permit process is open to anyone.

“Finally, I just want to say we really welcome all community organizations to apply and take advantage the wonderful ballfields that a lot of people here were involved in building,” said Forst. “We hope to see a variety of users on the field over time.”

Jeff Galloway, committee member and who was a part of the community board’s now disbanded Ballfields Taskforce, said, “These fields exist because of Downtown Little League and Downtown Soccer League.”

The fields were originally building development sites, explained Galloway, and the efforts of elected officials, including Sheldon Silver, the Assembly’s former speaker, made them happen.

“Battery Park City Authority gave up valuable real estate assets that were otherwise going to be developed” so the leagues would have a place to play, he said.

The leagues have helped create a community by connecting neighbors and their children to one another, Galloway added.

“They’re inclusive,” he said. “Basically anybody can sign up for a very modest amount of money [and] play in the league. And those who can’t afford it the modest amount of money, there’s financial support.”

Galloway said now it is as if the authority is saying, “ ‘You’re not welcome anyone. Thanks for delivering this wonderful resource to us, but now it’s somebody else’s turn.’ “

Justine Cuccia, public member of the committee, said of the B.P.CA., “ I’m sorry speaking this way — but they seem to not to have a real regard for the community that has been built down here. They’re very much interested in breaking it apart.”

Committee member Jeffrey Mihok said students who attend P.S./I.S. 276 do not have outside time during the day, and P.S. 89 has a very small yard.

“So we’re reduced to this one field that it seems like a no brainer that’s the community field,” said Mihok. “On the heels of — to put it delicately or as kindly as I can — the massive P.R. blunder … of taking away the amenity of the marina from the community when everything was going well. To now have this be an issue just seems like ‘What is going on?’ “

He was referring to the authority’s decision this year to oust the operator of North Cove Marina over community objections.

“We paid for the fields,” said Mihok, referring to the ground rent that people pay in B.P.C. “It’s absurd. I just can’t believe we’re having this conversation.”

Forst said the fields are “not being taken away and given to groups to New Jersey or uptown” and said again that the bulk of the time went to local groups and schools.

For Tammy Meltzer, a committee member, Forst saying “this season” popped out to her.

“My concern is not this year,” said Meltzer. “It’s really the fall, next year and future.”

Meltzer said she has children in the soccer league but was on the waitlist for the Downtown Little League because it is full.

Paul Goldstein, Silver’s district office director, said that it was impossible to overemphasize how important these fields were to the building of the community.

“We can’t give up this resource that’s served our community so well for 25 years,” he said. “Let’s not give it away now.”

Councilmember Margaret Chin, State Senator Daniel Squadron, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, U.S. Representative Jerrold Nadler and Assemblymembers Deborah Glick and Silver wrote a Mar. 2 letter to the B.P.C.A. that they “feel strongly that use of these fields should be prioritized for locally-based, non-profit, youth recreation organizations.”

The committee passed a resolution that called for a transparent permit process that would weigh community input.

Leyna Madison, after-school director for Manhattan Youth programs at I.S. 289 and I.S. 276, said that the field is already “ridiculously overcrowded” and the organization gets two hours a week for both schools.

“I just want these kids to have a chance to play in their neighborhood,” she said.

 

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