Volume 18 • Issue 25 | November 4 - 10, 2005

B.P.C. committee backs B-ball over tennis in park battle

By Ronda Kaysen

West Thames Park in Battery Park City will likely have the same activities it has now—basketball, community gardens, a tot lot and a dog run—when it is redesigned next spring as part of an overhaul of Route 9A.

The State Department of Transportation, the agency vested with redesigning Rte. 9A presented various concepts for uses of the swath of land west of 9A between West Thames St. and Rector Place to a Community Board 1 Battery Park City Committee meeting on Tuesday night. Parents turned out in force to support keeping the basketball courts in the new plans.

The current plans also include a lofty 8,000 sq. ft. dog run between West Thames and Third Place, to the delight of dog owners. Earlier proposals from D.O.T. offered up a smaller 5,000 sq. ft. dog run.

State D.O.T. is renovating Promenade South, an area between Battery Place and Albany St., as part of an overhaul of Route 9A or West St. The $965 million project also includes 9A improvements near the World Trade Center site and extends north to Chambers St. As part of the overhaul, D.O.T. will renovate the park and has agreed—at the request of the community—to designate the area for active uses.

A few board members and several audience members voiced a desire to bring tennis courts to West Thames Park. Tennis “is not an elitist sport,” insisted Leo Siegel, a Gateway Plaza resident. “Put the tennis courts there and they will play.”

After 9/11, tennis courts and ballfields in the north end of Battery Park City were taken over by emergency vehicles and removed soon after to make way for permanent fields. At the time, the Hudson River Park Trust promised to replace the courts and did build ones to the north, near Spring St.

But basketball enthusiasts voiced an impassioned plea in favor of their sport of choice. “The high school kids need a place to play,” said Tessa Huxley, executive director of the Battery Park City Parks Conservancy. “They use those basketball courts constantly.”

An unofficial hand count of the audience showed them divided between tennis or basketball courts, although the majority of audience members chose not to vote at all.

The public briefly discussed the possibility of creating a tennis court equipped for basketball or sandwiching a smaller court where the community gardens would be so a single, four-person tennis court could take the place of the basketball court.

“Basketball courts can be smaller. We know people who live in other places—can I say the word? ‘Suburbs’ — where they have them on garages. We don’t need to meet N.B.A. standards,” said board member and tennis enthusiast Tom Goodkind.

If D.O.T. moves the basketball courts to the area slotted for the community gardens, it would need to place the gardens alongside the dog run, in effect making a much smaller dog run and much smaller gardens.

The proposed design already delegates half the amount of space for gardens as exists now. In the new design — with the gardens relocated to what is now a parking lot—gardeners will have 6,000 sq. ft. of space to toil. They currently enjoy about 11,000 sq. ft. of space.

“To see those gardens be lost, that would be awful,” said Maria Smith, a Battery Pointe resident who supported tennis courts in the park, but not at the expense of the gardens. “We’ve got to strike a balance for everybody.”

Some residents toyed with the idea of grassing the 15,000 sq. ft. lawn with artificial turf so it could be used year-round. “If Battery Park City really is a neighborhood for children, we need to have a place they can use,” said Helene Seeman, a Rector Pl. resident.

D.O.T. officials did not entirely dismiss the idea of an artificial field, but expressed reservations. An artificial lawn has the problem of getting hot in the summer and is not very welcoming to people who might want to lounge on the grass. “It doesn’t feel like sitting on a lawn,” said Heather Sporn, deputy director of the Route 9A project for State D.O.T.

Ultimately, the committee voted against the idea of adding tennis courts, heeding concerns that the basketball courts or community gardens might be lost in the shuffle. “We should think long and hard about eliminating an existing use before we do that,” said Jeff Galloway, a board member and president of the Battery Park City Dog Association, which voiced strong support for keeping a dog run at the park.

D.O.T. also vetted the possibility of building a new pedestrian bridge crossing West St. and emptying out near the park and W. Thames St. They presented several variations, some with elevators—which have proved unreliable with other West St. bridges—and others with ramps.

The new bridge would be something of a replacement for the Rector St. bridge, a widely used temporary bridge that was erected after 9/11 and will eventually need to be removed. Because the surrounding buildings are either on the National Register of Historic Places or eligible for the registry, D.O.T. will not be able to build a larger, more permanent bridge on that site.

But the alternative did not evoke much support from the public. The board and public expressed reservations about the bridge project, wondering if it was too far south to really be of much use. They also worried that a ramp might cut into the park. “We don’t want this to amend our limited amenities,” said Goodkind.

D.O.T. requested the board indicate whether or not they supported the idea of a new bridge. By a margin of one, the C.B. 1 committee voted against the bridge.

Ronda@DowntownExpress.com


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