Cross-posted on the NYC Council Parks & Recreation Committee blog.
Ballfields at $120 million Randalls Island largely unused, not attracting neighborhood kids
BY DANIEL BEEKMAN
DAILY NEWS WRITER
If you build it, they will come – but not to Randalls Island.
Dozens of new ballfields in the sprawling park beneath the RFK-Triborough Bridge went unused last summer by the kids who need them most, the city parks boss admits.
And with school almost out for summer, advocates are complaining the $120 million revamp of Randalls Island Park in early 2010 created a playground for the rich and took crucial dollars from neighborhood ballfields.
Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe cited the low traffic earlier this year to justify plans for a private sports camp.
“Fields on Randalls Island have gone largely unused during weekday daytime hours in July and August, and thus availability should not be an issue,” he wrote City Councilwoman Melissa Mark-Viverito in January.
The deal called for Florida-based IMG Academies to operate the camp on Randalls Island after donating $200,000 to the Randalls Island Sports Foundation. But plans for the $895-a-week camp fell through in April, with IMG citing low enrollment.
Mark-Viverito (D-East Harlem/Bronx) slammed the pricey park rehab, claiming thousands of trees were cut down to make way for the artificial turf fields.
“Why would you build so many fields and then have a problem in terms of utilization?” she asked. “It was shortsighted and now we’re paying the price.”
“From day one, we were concerned there was no need to build so many” new fields, said Geoffrey Croft of NYC Park Advocates. “Now that has come to fruition. The result is the fields are empty.”
The park boasts fancy golf and tennis centers, but no basketball courts, he added.
During the rehab, the city took heat for a $2.2 million-per-year pay-to-play scheme involving Manhattan private schools. It was struck down in court after East Harlem and Bronx community groups sued.
“The fields were built mostly to accommodate the private schools,” Croft said. And Marina Ortiz, of East Harlem Preservation, called the park “a private playground … designed to bring in revenue.”
There’s a move afoot now to try and spread the word about what’s in the park. Randalls Island fields go unused partly because they are isolated and more people need to be made aware of the space, said Frances Masrota of Manhattan Community Board 11.
A renovated E. 103rd St. pedestrian bridge is set to reopen soon, while the M35 bus runs between the park and E. 125th St. – but few youngsters make the trip.
The Parks Department has assigned a representative to attend Board 11 meetings and share info related to Randalls Island to try to spread the word on what’s there.
The fields are “generally permitted to capacity” in the evenings and on weekends, Parks spokesman Zachary Feder said. The park foundation also offers a free summer program, he noted, and softball leagues