Basketball City and community working on game plan

By Albert Amateau

Basketball City is coming to Pier 36 on the East River, probably before the end of this year, and Community Board 3 and a coalition of Lower East Side civic associations are asking Bruce Radler, B.B.C. president, to give low-income neighborhood youth and nonprofit groups a chance to shoot hoops in the proposed facility.

After more than 10 years of negotiations, the city in 2008 signed the lease for what used to be called the “Banana Pier” (formerly where United Fruit Co. ships docked), at South and Clinton Sts., to Basketball City. And Community Board 3 came to a tentative “community benefits agreement” with Radler about community use of the proposed basketball courts and local employment during construction of the project.

Radler, who attended a Jan. 14 C.B. 3 Parks Committee meeting about Pier 36, told The Villager that he hopes to begin construction by the end of this year.

“I better be ready by then, but I don’t like to project a timetable because I’ve done it before and I’ve been wrong,” he said.

As for the community benefits agreement, Radler said, “Basketball City is committed to giving back to the community. We’ve been doing it since 1997. We’ve opened our doors to schools, Police Athletic League teams, community groups, and we’ve run programs that benefit thousands of kids. We’ve given scholarships and court time. We believe that sports is the most important way to build community and citizenship.”

But he said he couldn’t guarantee specific arrangements because the project has not even started.

Radler operated Basketball City, six courts under a bubble tent on top of the Hudson River Pier 63, at W. 23rd St., from 1997 until September 2006, when he was forced to leave the site to make it available for the Hudson River Park. Basketball City has operations in Boston, Atlanta, Chicago, Los Angeles and Irvine, Cal. The profit-making enterprise serves corporate leagues and private schools.

The community benefits agreement calls for reduced fees for yearly membership for residents of the C.B. 3 (East Village/Lower East Side) district, with discounts on drop-in games “never to exceed five dollars for three hours.” For residents of the district who can show a welfare card, the agreement calls for a deeper discount. Residents of public housing and low-income residents of the district should be eligible for all-expenses annual scholarships for any program.

A Community Oversight Advisory Board would keep a list of nonprofit groups, tenant organizations, block associations and public and parochial schools eligible for free court time or free time in a community room to be part of the project.

The agreement also calls for Basketball City to “make all diligent efforts to ensure that jobs with a living wage” go to residents of C.B. 3, with priority to residents of public housing. Basketball City will work with the community to see that, when possible, demolition and construction jobs for the project go to residents of the C.B. 3. district, the agreement says.

At the Jan. 14 C.B. 3 Parks Committee meeting, OUR Waterfront, a coalition of Lower East Side community groups, presented a plan for the entire East River waterfront — including Pier 36. The coalition waterfront plan calls for basketball and volleyball facilities in Pier 36, but does not mention Basketball City.

The coalition plan, however, says, “Residents of the Lower East Side and Chinatown want the East River Development project to prioritize free and low-cost services and business.”

Nevertheless, Victor Papa, of the Two Bridges Neighborhood Council and a member of the OUR Waterfront coalition, said that the group’s plan was not intended to contradict the C.B. 3 community benefit agreement.

Indeed, several supporters of the coalition plan said they would work with the board and with Radler to make the benefit agreement work for all parties.

Harvey Epstein, the C.B. 3 member leading the community benefit agreement negotiations with Radler, said, “Over the next three to six months we can work out the details.”