Basketball City gives it another shot on East Side

By Lincoln Anderson

A long-delayed plan for a Basketball City off Clinton St. at Pier 36 has been revived and is now working its way through the Community Board 3 review process.

Basketball City, which bills itself as the premiere basketball facility in New York City, currently operates at W. 23rd St. in a bubble on top of Pier 63 in the Hudson River Park. Like the West Side version, the East Side Basketball City would have six basketball courts with hardwood floors (which could also be used for volleyball, lacrosse and indoor soccer) and electric scoreboards, with a health and fitness facility and men’s and women’s locker rooms. There would also be community rooms and time set aside for free use for the community.

A memorandum of understanding was worked out in 1994 between Gouverneur Gardens Housing Corp. — a Mitchell-Lama development across the street from the pier — Assembly Sheldon Silver and Mayor David Dinkins under which the northern third of Pier 63’s pier shed building — totaling 64,000 sq. ft. — would be devoted for a so-called community-facility use. In return, the Department of Sanitation was allowed to use the other two-thirds of the pier shed for its District 3 garage, servicing Community Board 3. In addition, the city committed to finishing the interior of the pier shed with heating and ventilation systems and devoting up to $1.5 million towards the design and outfitting of the shed as an appropriate community-use facility. The agreement also provided a $500,000 loan for facade repairs for Gouverneur Gardens.

Because vandalism caused the pier’s further deterioration, Silver later got the city to increase the commitment of funds to fix up the community space to $2.75 million.

The agreement arose from a lawsuit filed — and personally argued — by Silver stemming from Dinkins’ 1992 plan to put a total of six agencies and, not one, but two Sanitation district garages on Pier 36.

In 1995, an ad-hoc committee set up through the memorandum of understanding, including several members of Board 3, and the Parks Dept. issued a request for expressions of interest for the space on Pier 36. Two respondents were considered: Basketball City and New York Junior Tennis League. The ad-hoc committee unanimously supported Basketball City to operate in the community-facility space under a month-to-month license. Basketball City drew up designs for its proposal and these were put out to bid by the Parks Dept., with the lowest cost to build the facility coming back at $4.5 million.

Feeling the bids were too high, the city was set to advertise the space on Sept. 1, 2001, to put the project out to bid again — but the World Trade Center attack derailed the process. The designs were re-bid in January 2002, but came back higher, around $6 million. In a new development, Basketball City, which would invest $2.5 million in the renovations, is now seeking a 30-year lease.

Charles Stagnitta, E.D.C. community relations associate director, said that the city wasn’t “wedded to” the idea of a 30-year lease and that they are sounding out the community’s opinion on that and other aspects of the project.

However, according to tenant leaders, residents of nearby housing developments are concerned about the introduction of Basketball City, partly because it’s not a free use — users must pay $10 a day — and partly because of the neighborhood impact.

“More traffic, more noise. It will be a 30-year impact. This will not be easy to take,” said Victor Papa, president and director of Two Bridges Neighborhood Council, at Board 3’s Parks Committee meeting as the issue was being discussed last Thursday.

However, Bruce Radler, president of Basketball City, said the traffic impact won’t be significant, noting, “There aren’t a lot of people that drive to our facility.”

But others pointed out that while the 23rd St. crosstown bus goes to Basketball City, public transportation is nonexistent on South St.

“Maybe we should ask the city [about improving transportation]. It’s important to us too,” said Radler.

Radler noted Basketball City provides free court time for 16 alternative public high schools that don’t have sports facilities and runs programs for the Carmine St. Recreation Center, even though it’s not required to do so, in addition to hosting fundraisers and charity benefits.

For the East Side Basketball City, there would be an annual family rate for community members of $199 per year and individual rate of $99 for the health facility, which would include weights and cardiovascular training equipment, and there would be a discounted rate for court time, Radler said, though adding everything’s still being worked out.

“There’ll be a tremendous amount of court time set aside for the community,” Radler assured.

Richard Ropiak, the Parks Committee’s chairperson, said that by voting yes on the committee’s resolution, it would mean the 1994 memorandum of understanding “exists” and is still valid. A representative of the city’s Economic Development Corp. said the city has the money to fix up the space, but can’t release it until an agreement with the community is in place. E.D.C. would like Board 3’s approval in order to grant the lease.

Ropiak’s position was the committee should approve Basketball City’s going into Pier 36 and leave it for the full board to ultimately decide at their Nov. 18 meeting. But Susan Stetzer, a Board 3 member, felt the committee should try to negotiate more concessions before giving their O.K.

“I just think we shouldn’t give in very easily,” she said. Lois Regan, a Parks Committee member, suggested they tour the West Side Basketball City first before voting. Radler said he’d be happy to schedule times for tours.

“I can see everyone wanting to hold back, but this [plan] has been sitting there for 10 years,” Ropiak said.

“Yeah, and it’ll be there for 30 years [if Basketball City gets a long-term lease],” chimed in Papa.

The resolution passed the committee by a vote of three yes, zero no and two abstentions.

At one point earlier, the meeting had gotten heated. Silver supports the Basketball City plan. Yvonne Morrow, Silver’s community representative, uttered a profanity at Papa and left the room only to return a little while later.

“I wasn’t insulted at all,” Papa said later. “I know she has worked on this a long time.”

However, Papa said that to him “community-use facility” means free and that the definition of the term doesn’t mean Basketball City. He said most residents in the area don’t even know about the plan.

Morrow said Basketball City represents a “public-private partnership” and that this is what’s needed because of the estimated shortfall of now over $3 million needed to fix up the space.

Said Papa: “Sheldon Silver won a significant concession from the community. Now we have to win a significant concession from Sheldon Silver.”