Volume 19 Issue 49 | April 20 - 26, 2007

C.B. 1 gets a kick out of indoor turf plan

By Skye H. McFarlane

For veterans of the Battery Park City turf wars, it may have come as a shock to hear Battery Park City Authority representative Leticia Remauro utter the words “turf field” and “win-win proposal” in the same breath.

No, the authority has not acquiesced to community requests to replace B.P.C.’s grass ballfields with artificial field turf. The agency has, however, agreed to consider a proposal by the Downtown sports leagues to install an indoor turf field at the to-be-built Battery Park City community center on North End Ave. between Warren and Murray Sts.

“At first blush, our visceral reaction is that this would be a good economic venture because these types of facilities are very rare,” Remauro said on April 10 at a meeting of the Community Board 1 Community Center Task Force.

The indoor turf plan, which was presented by Don Schuck, president of the Downtown Soccer League, calls for replacing the community center’s full-size gymnasium with a multi-purpose field. In a nine-page, illustrated proposal Schuck and Downtown Little League president Mark Costello outlined the benefits of the design change.

With a softer and more versatile surface, they said, the indoor field would be more useful than a basketball gym. It would provide the neighborhood with a unique amenity and bring in substantial revenue to support the center’s other programs.

Community members at the meeting gave the turf plan their rousing support. C.B. 1 added its voice Tuesday night, when the full board passed a unanimous resolution in favor of the field. The authority, which will have the final say on the idea, has also expressed enthusiasm — although the agency must still study the feasibility of the plan.

“We’re off to a great start,” Costello, who was not at the task force meeting, said after learning about the turf plan’s warm reception. “People can sometimes get sticky about design issues, but to the authority’s credit and to the credit of the people on the task force, people were very open-minded and receptive. We’re ecstatic.”

The design of the community center has become especially sticky in recent months, as parents from P.S. 89 on Warren St. have called upon the authority and the Department of Education to build a school annex in the center to alleviate overcrowding at the school.

The authority firmly denied that request at the April 10 meeting, citing disinterest from the D.O.E and the fact that construction on the center, though delayed, will begin later this year. Redesigning any major elements at this point, Remauro said, would involve breaking the authority’s lease with Milstein Properties. Milstein agreed to construct the walls, beams and utilities for the space as part of a deal to build two residential towers on the site.

Unlike the annex, the turf field seems unlikely to change Milstein’s “core and shell” part of the build. Though the field would need partitions to keep the balls under control, it would not require load-bearing walls. Many such facilities use netting, plywood or hockey rink-style Plexiglas to fence in their fields. The field would fit within the current footprint of the gymnasium. At approximately 67 feet by 97 feet, it would be slightly shorter, but also slightly wider than similar fields at Chelsea Piers.

Because indoor fields are especially rare in Manhattan, the fields at Chelsea Piers are perpetually busy and charge a premium for field time for soccer, lacrosse and other sports. Using the Chelsea Piers rates, Schuck and Costello estimated that even if the field was only rented out to adult sports leagues from 8 to 11 p.m. each night, the space would bring in at least $350,000 per year. In addition to creating a revenue stream, Schuck said, the adult-league time would create more options for local grown-ups who still enjoy playing organized sports.

“In addition to kids and seniors, there’s also a lot of single people here,” Schuck said. “This would give them more of an opportunity to use the center as well.”

Schuck and Costello suggested that the turf might be used by senior and toddler programs in the morning, school gym classes during the day, youth leagues in the afternoon and adult leagues at night. Everyone at the April 10 meeting insisted that the center’s eventual operator would have to balance the desire to make money with the needs of all community populations.

“We have to be very careful that it’s programmed in a dynamic way so that it makes a lot of money, but during the time that the youth leagues and others need it, it’s going to be there for them,” Costello agreed.

Except for basketball, an indoor turf could accommodate the same uses — volleyball, badminton, movement classes — as a gymnasium. During non-league time, Schuck said, the turf would provide a softer, safer surface for movement classes and free play.

As for the lost basketball courts, the proposal notes that there are currently four indoor courts within four blocks of the planned facility, which should open in late 2009 or early 2010.

Bob Townley, executive director of Manhattan Youth — which will be opening up a community center at Warren and Greenwich Sts. this fall — agreed that a multi-sport surface could work well for the center’s eventual operator. “I don’t think there’s a downside to it,” he said.

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