Authority opens up to playing ball on turf fields

The Battery Park City Authority has softened its opposition to putting synthetic turf on the neighborhood ballfields, although it is not willing to consider any changes to the grass fields now.

The Downtown Little and Soccer Leagues, which have been pushing for turf in order to increase the amount of playing time, suffered two blows from the authority last year. One was news that a residential development project on the west end of the fields could force them to close for two years during construction and the other was that the authority had decided not to change to turf.

Jim Cavanaugh, the authority’s president and C.E.O., told Downtown Express this month that he is now open to considering a turf change in 2009 when construction by Milstein Properties of two apartment towers and a community recreation center is expected to be completed on the ballfields block between Warren and Murray Sts.

“We agreed to keep the discussions open,” Cavanaugh said. It now looks like the construction will close part of the fields until 2009, when they will have to be rebuilt. He said the authority will take up the leagues’ request when it comes time to plan the new fields.

Mark Costello, president of the Little League, said he would understand waiting until the construction is over to begin building turf fields, but if the leagues are going to have to play through construction for two years, they need a promise now that things will get better after the disruption.

“To say ‘wait until 2009 and then we’ll think about it’ — that’s not going to fly,” said Costello. The fields are closed five months of the year in order to preserve them for the pounding pitter-patter of cleats during the seasons. The newer turfs are considerably safer than the muddy field conditions the Soccer League had last season, Costello said. In addition, the grass fields take longer to recover from the rain and there were times last season when the city’s turf fields were open and the B.P.C. fields were closed.

The $6-million grass fields comply with the authority’s “green” environmental guidelines and opened with much fanfare in the summer of 2003, with then Governor George Pataki throwing out the first ball.

As with most of the state’s public authorities, the B.P.C.A. is still controlled by Pataki’s appointees and hires. Authority board appointees serve for fixed terms, not at the governor’s pleasure. Gov. Eliot Spitzer has moved quickly to make changes at the largest authorities, most notably the Port Authority and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, but he has not yet taken on most of the hundreds of others he will control. When Pataki took office 12 years ago, it took him over a year to wrest control of the B.P.C.A. from the Cuomo administration.

— Josh Rogers