By Raanan Geberer
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
The press conference to announce the new sports fields at Pier 5 in Brooklyn Bridge Park, at the foot of Joralemon Street, on Thursday morning clearly wasn’t an ordinary one.
Not only politicians and the news media but large crowds of Cobble Hill residents were there. And in the background, soccer players from the New York Red Bulls, the New York metropolitan area’s professional soccer team, were practicing.
Thanks to a $26 million development project, the pier, one of several former Port Authority shipping piers on the Brooklyn waterfront, is now home to three multi-purpose sports fields and an adjacent picnic peninsula. This is just the latest section of the park to open since the first section, at Pier 1 near Fulton Ferry Landing, opened in 2010.
Since that time, Brooklyn Bridge Park has become a major attraction for visitors. “In summer 2012, the park welcomed 90,000 visitors per weekend. Starting today, New Yorkers and tourists alike will have even more reasons to visit Brooklyn Bridge Park,” said Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who presided over the news conference.
While the fields are mainly designed for soccer, the mayor added, they can also be used for lacrosse, cricket, rugby, flag football and several other sports. Bloomberg added that the Squibb Park Bridge, which will connect northern Brooklyn Heights with Brooklyn Bridge Park, is expected to be completed within the next few weeks.
Borough President Marty Markowitz said that when he took office in 2002, much, if not most, of Brooklyn’s waterfront was inaccessible to the public. “If you asked the average Brooklynite about the waterfront,” he said, “he would have mentioned the beaches, like Coney Island and Brighton Beach, and the local fire hydrant.”
At that time, what is now Brooklyn Bridge Park was occupied by warehouses that had replaced the original piers.
Remarking on soccer's popularity, Markowitz also said he hoped that the Red Bulls would build a soccer stadium in Brooklyn, to complement Brooklyn's two other major sports teams, the Nets and (in the future) the Islanders.
Many of the speakers honored former public officials who helped develop, and advocate for, the park. Markowitz mentioned former state Sen. Marty Connor and former City Councilman David Yassky. Assemblywoman Joan Millman mentioned her predecessor, the late Eileen Dugan. Assemblywoman Dugan’s brother, St. Francis College President Brendan Dugan, was among those in the audience.
Also speaking were Regina Myer, president of Brooklyn Bridge Park, who said the ceremony “marks a major turning point for BBP,” and Nancy Webster, executive director of the Brooklyn Bridge Park Conservancy, who called the park “the city’s most exciting, beautiful and sustainable new waterfront park.”
During his speech, Markowitz, who frequently pokes fun at his own roly-poly weight, said, “Those who are athletically inclined can use the soccer fields, but I know where I’ll head – to the picnic tables!”
State Sen. Daniel Squadron replied, “Borough President Markowitz likes to think of himself as non-athletic, but I’m sure I’d have a very hard time getting the ball past Marty if he were guarding the goal.”
Like the rest of Brooklyn Bridge Park, both Pier 5 and the Picnic Peninsula were designed by Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates.