Community leaders, directors of youth athletic leagues, and elected officials are voicing criticism about the process under which the Battery Park City Authority (BPCA) is allocating time on the community’s ball fields.
In a March 2 letter to BPCA chair Dennis Mehiel, U.S. Congressman Jerrold Nadler, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, State Assembly member Sheldon Silver, State Assembly member Deborah Glick, State Senator Daniel Squardon, and City Council member Margaret Chin, noted their, “strong concern about the process for assigning permits for the Battery Park City ball fields.” The letter continued, “these fields should be prioritized for locally-based, non-profit, youth recreation organizations in accordance with a previous Memorandum of Understanding written with the Battery Park City Authority, local stakeholders and the Community Board.”
This was a reference to a 2001 agreement between the BPCA and Community Board 1 (CB1), which created a Ballfields Task Force that played the leading role in deciding which leagues would be assigned scarce field time. The Ballfields Task Force most recently weighed in on field usage in 2012, when three-year permits were assigned to Downtown Little League (DLL), Downtown Soccer League (DSL), and other organizations. Those permits expired at the end of 2014.
In response, the BPCA has issued a new, one-year permit to DLL, whose season begins in a few weeks. The Authority reached this decision without consulting the Ballfields Task Force, deciding unilaterally to reduce the length of the permit from three years to one, and scaling back the total field time allotted to DLL for the season by approximately 20 hours. The letter from the elected officials also cites apprehension about “the process for assigning these permits beyond the coming season.”
In a statement, the BPCA said the expiration of DLL and DSL’s permits, “allowed us to open the permit application process to gauge the nature of interest in the use of our field space. Permit allocation is heavily weighted toward youth groups. Nearly 95 percent of available field time has been allocated to youth non-profit groups and schools.” At the March 3 meeting of CB1’s Battery Park City Committee, BPCA representative Robin Forst said that a small amount of time had also been allotted to for-profit youth leagues and corporate events.
Committee chair Anthony Notaro said, “we weren’t particularly happy about [the BPCA’s approach],” which might cast doubt on future use of the fields by DLL and DSL. “We didn’t see any reason,” he said. “This is not what we expected to happen. We suggested renewing these licenses.”
DLL president Andrew Zelter said, “we had great support from CB2 and our elected officials and had access to the BPCA to address the immediate needs for the coming season. But to me, this is a question of what the future looks like for these types of activities for our kids. Speaking for DLL, we’ll have an enrollment of close to 1100 kids this year, and DSL is even larger, with 1700 kids. I can tell you that these fields don’t even come close to supporting the needs of the leagues. So, to lose time on those fields is going to have an impact. We need to understand what the vision is for the future.”
The decades-long tradition of DLL and DSL claiming the bulk of time on the Battery Park City ball fields stems from the crucial role both organizations played in creating the facility. Committee member Jeff Galloway recalled, “these fields exist because of DLL and DSL. The fields are on land that was originally building sites. But as a result of community organizing, along with the help of elected officials — especially Sheldon Silver — the BPCA gave up valuable real estate assets that were otherwise going to be developed, so that DLL and DSL would have a place to play.”
“One of the things these leagues provide is a very valuable community-creation aspect,” Mr. Galloway continued. “Youth leagues like DLL and DSL are inclusive. Anybody can sign up for a very modest amount of money, and those who don’t have that money can get financial help. This is a value to this community and a reason for these fields to be devoted to these leagues.”
Commenting on the uncertainty cited by Mr. Zelter, Mr. Galloway concluded, “It would be ironic if we told these leagues, ‘thanks for delivering these resources to us, but you’re not needed anymore.'”
Paul Goldstein, who runs the district office of State Assembly member Sheldon Silver, added that, “along with the schools, the parks, the libraries, these fields were the building blocks of this community.”
Responding to Ms. Forst’s observation that the lessons learned from the new permit process include a desire to start the process earlier in the future, as well as her acknowledgement that a permit for DSL has not yet been finalized, Committee member Tammy Meltzer noted, “it makes my head spin that the Request for Proposals for the summer season is still coming up, because offers for summer camps have already gone out. What makes the leagues work so well is the ability to plan. If you have a multi-year permit, you know whether you can start a girl’s league, for example. A one-season permit doesn’t allow for this. These permits not only need to be multi-year, but notice about changes needs to be given more than a year in advance. What benefit does this create for stakeholders who live here?”
Committee member Justine Cuccia remarked, “the fallout from one-season permits is that parents will start looking outside the community for athletic opportunities, which will damage the community created by these leagues. Instead of a place where people can be with their neighbors, you’re ruining that and taking it away. It’s a really bad choice, but it seems like the current BPCA administration does not have a real regard for the community that has been built down here. They’re very much interested in breaking in apart, because it has a very strong voice.”
Jeff Mihok, also a member of the Battery Park City Committee, reflected that, “kids in local schools have little or no outdoor time, so this should be the community’s field, because the community created it. After the massive blunder of taking the amenity of the North Cove Marina from the community, for this now to be an issue raises the question of what is going on? Two amenities that are so obviously part of the community’s life and fabric are threatened by this Authority, few of whose staff live within the community or know what’s going on here.”
Ms. Meltzer responded, “what concerns me are the words ‘this year.’ Is there a possibility that the local leagues will be squeezed out in the future? Suppose next year the BPCA decides that some other league has priority?”
At this point, Mr. Notaro interjected, “that’s not something we’re ever going to allow to happen.” Ms. Cuccia replied, “if we’re going to take this in pieces, step by step, the community loses, because nobody has the time to fight.” Mr. Notaro concluded the discussion by noting, “we had an effective Ballfields Task Force,” and calling for a resolution, “stating that we expect the Authority to come back to this community and work through a process where any decision on the permits are vetted by whatever community arm we present to you. We need to reinstitute a process that is open and transparent and has complete community input on how any decisions are made relevant to our ball fields.”
The 2001 agreement that created the Ballfields Task Force is still in effect, according to Mr. Galloway. A source directly familiar with this agreement (who asked not to be identified) noted a second aspect, that gives it added legal force. “The ballfields were originally much larger, but shrank in 2007, so the BPCA could put up two buildings on the west side of the fields. The agreement creating the Task Force, and giving the community a voice in how those fields are used, was designed specifically to compensate the community for this loss of space.”
(Editor’s Note: Ms. Cuccia is related to the reporter who wrote this story.)