By Mary Frost
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
A wealthy donor has offered to build what is being described as a $40 million indoor recreation and cycling “Fieldhouse” at Brooklyn Bridge Park, and developers of the park and some local schools have embraced the idea.
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 — say that the proposed Fieldhouse is a specialized velodrome masquerading as a community recreation center — and it doesn’t belong in Brooklyn Bridge Park.
A velodrome is a racing track, banked 45 degrees or more at the curves, for competitive bicycle racing. Competitors ride special fixed-gear bikes without brakes, and must travel at least 16 miles an hour to avoid tipping over. There is only one other indoor velodrome in the United States, the Home Depot Center Velodrome in Carson, California, though there are dozens of outdoor velodromes.
Brooklyn Bridge Park says the Fieldhouse, backed by founder and chairman Joshua P. Rechnitz, is envisioned as a “flexible public indoor athletic and recreation center” that includes a public boathouse, restrooms and space for the park’s maintenance and operations.
But Flemming says that the 2,499-seat velodrome will serve mainly specialized competitive track cyclists who will come from around the world to race in the arena — accompanied by hundreds of vehicles and thousands of spectators, to the detriment of the park.
“It’s a pipe dream designed to give this guy his building,” Flemming said. “The number of people who really want it you can count on the fingers of your left hand. What is it doing in our park? Why help the city build a huge stadium — one of only two in the country — in a tiny waterfront park for this quaint, obscure, bizarre sport?”
Greg Brooks, executive director of New York City Fieldhouse Inc., argues that the entire community will make use of the facility, and says it will save Brooklyn Bridge Park a ton of money. The Fieldhouse will “save the park millions in capital costs. That’s money for maintenance, restrooms, storage for kayaks, all capital costs the park will not have to spend or maintain,” he told the Brooklyn Eagle on Tuesday.
“We have really gotten positive reactions,” he said. “Middle schools kids can do phys-ed in an active sports facility. We’ll be hosting pilates classes, yoga.” There will be room in the infield to set up (removable) tennis, basketball and volleyball courts, he added.
Brooks said that the original intent of the corporation has changed — from providing an Olympic-sized venue for international and national competitions, to a smaller arena — and that the Certificate of Incorporation was being amended. “Attorneys are working on a Certificate of Incorporation that will be a better match” with the current plans, he said.
“Let me make it clear, it’s not Olympic-sized. It’s 200 meter vs. 250 meter. There will be no Olympic trials, though it would be very exciting for Brooklyn to bring Olympic-caliber cyclists for training. At 200 meters, the U.S. cycling group will not promote or support competitions. Some people feel that’s unfortunate.
“We’ll see the community using the track, beginners, intermediate level; we’re getting a lot of support from the entire cycling community,” Brooks said. “We’ve met with Bike NY, Transportation Alternatives, all the major cycling organizations expressed great excitement.”
Flemming and other critics say, however, that the velodrome’s infield, where volleyball nets or basketball courts would be set up, is miniscule compared to the overall arena.
“Painting stripes on a horse doesn’t make it a zebra,” says Flemming. He said that the infield would provide only 15-16,000 square feet of gym floor, while outside the park there will be “16,000 square feet of beach volleyball courts on Pier 6, 200,000 square feet of field on Pier 5, and 200,000 square feet of hard-court (some canopied) on Pier 2 by fall 2013.”
Brooks, who said the infield would provide “well over 20,000 square feet,” said that Fieldhouse is “looking at the infield."
“We’re looking at ways to optimize the size of the infield now.” It will hold “several tennis courts, volley ball, gymnastics, we could run clinics, it’s a great size. Local public and private schools and even colleges have shown great enthusiasm.” Dr. Larry Weiss, Head of School at Brooklyn Friends School in Downtown Brooklyn is a proponent of the proposal.
Brooks also discussed the costs of maintaining the velodrome. “Since we don’t have a full program or design yet, it’s hard to say. $1.4 million a year doesn’t sound like a lot. Part of the agreement calls for the donor guaranteeing the operating funds for ten years. There will also be user fees, sponsorships, programs and contributions.”
A number of concerns brought up during community planning meetings “have already made their way into the design process,” he said, though he declined to say what those suggestions were. “We haven’t presented the design yet to all the partners.”
“We’re looking for the EIS process to begin in the fall, to go into the ground in 2014, and to open at the end of 2015 or early 2016. We’ll be having a presentation of the design in the fall at one large meeting for all the communities, and a public scoping hearing on the environmental impact statement in the fall.”
“The proposed Fieldhouse will bring park users and the community the all-weather sports and recreation venue that has always been included in the General Project Plan for the park but was unattainable due to financial constraints,” Regina Myer, President of Brooklyn Bridge Park said at press time. “We will continue to work with the New York City Field House to address the community’s concerns and ensure that this project adds positively to the park experience.”