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$50M donor puts brakes on Brooklyn Bridge Park velodrome

World Cup cyclists whiz around the track last April at London’s velodrome, built for the 2012 London Olympics. AP photo

Brooklyn Daily Eagle

After more than a half year of controversy, a plan to bring an indoor velodrome, or bicycle racing and sports complex, to Brooklyn Bridge Park has crumbled, the New York Times reports.

Joshua P. Rechnitz, the bicycle-loving philanthropist who was backing the project with $50 million of his own funds, told the New York Times on Wednesday that he and his team would seek another location for the indoor "Fieldhouse" featuring a specialized, banked racing track and viewing stands.

While local support for the plan had been decidedly mixed, the decision was made mainly for financial reasons, planners said. The proposed location -– directly below the Brooklyn Heights Promenade -– added aesthetic costs to the project, and Superstorm Sandy raised the specter of flooding.

The velodrome complex was to have been situated at Furman Street upland of Pier 5. The complex would have been one of only two such indoor facilities in the country (the other is in California). A similar facility in Colorado closed last year.

After criticisms about its size in relationship to the relatively narrow park, its effect on traffic and the obscurity of the sport itself, which requires specialized bikes with no brakes (as described in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle), the plans were revised to create more space for community sports activities and team games, with fewer stands for spectators.

But skeptics — including Peter Flemming, co-chair of the Brooklyn Bridge Park Community Council and a member of the Citizens Advisory Committee of the Park Corporation — still maintained that the project wasn’t a good fit for the park.

Yesterday, Flemming said that Rechnitz’s decision is “a great relief, both for the park and for the Heights. If you could imagine 300 feet of four-story buildings on Furman Street, underneath the Promenade, that’s how frightful it would have been.”

Flemming told the Brooklyn Eagle last July that “the proposed Fieldhouse is a specialized velodrome masquerading as a community recreation center — and it doesn’t belong in Brooklyn Bridge Park.” He also called indoor bicycle racing “a quaint, bizarre, obscure sport.”

Also applauding Rechnitz’s decision to pull out of the park was Judy Stanton, executive director of the Brooklyn Heights Association. “We think the right decision was made for the park,” she told the Eagle. “The development was too expensive and did not fit at the site. We wish Mr. Rechnitz well and hope he finds a suitable location.”

The Brooklyn Bridge Park Corporation had originally supported the velodrome as a “flexible public indoor athletic and recreation center” that included a public boathouse, restrooms and space for the park’s maintenance and operations.

Yesterday, Brooklyn Bridge Park President Regina Myer said, “We are grateful that we were considered for this very generous gift and regret that this project will not come to fruition in the park. We thank the NYC Fieldhouse for all of the work they put into evaluating the feasibility of bringing this facility to Brooklyn Bridge Park.”

A statement for Councilman Steve Levin, who represents the area, was also rather diplomatic: “It is a testament to the popularity and the world-class design of Brooklyn Bridge Park that Mr. Rechnitz was willing to make such a generous investment and I greatly appreciate his interest in our community.

“While the prospect of indoor recreation was exciting, I look forward to working with the neighborhood residents and Regina Myer to move forward with the development of the park.”

Among those who had backed the velodrome were Dr. Larry Weiss, head of school at Brooklyn Friends School,  because the infield courts would be made available to area schools; and Assemblywoman Joan Millman, because it would have replaced a rundown storage building near Pier 5 that she called an eyesore, according to the New York Times.

As mentioned above, there are few indoor velodromes, which feature a curved, banked, circular track. The closest outdoor velodrome is at Kissena Park, Queens. Bikes used in velodrome racing don’t have any brakes.

Velodromes were much more common in the 1920s, during the height of the six-day bicycle race craze. A Coney Island Velodrome, which also hosted boxing matched, lasted until 1950, when it was torn down for housing.

January 10, 2013 - 3:08pm


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