CB3 Takes Up Rivington Court Controversy
Last month, LES residents noticed changes taking place at a public school yard on Norfolk and Stanton streets: rows of bleachers moved in, a hardwood floor sprung up on top of the asphalt and black cloth covered large sections of the yard’s chain link fence. The construction didn’t remain a mystery for long. Basketball hoops appeared, accompanied by a “swoosh” logo that announced the space’s new summer identity: Rivington Court, home to a series of promotional events run by Nike and a partner, Game Seven Marketing. Since June 27th, the court has played host to a number of exhibitions, including an ongoing “Battle of the Boroughs” tournament that pits some of the city’s finest young players against each other.
But while Rivington Court has attracted fans in droves, it’s also drawn criticism from local residents, who say the court’s creators are indifferent to the needs of the surrounding community. In response to multiple complaints, Community Board 3’s youth and education committee will discuss the issue in a meeting on September 12th, directing scrutiny at the way public school property can be utilized without the knowledge or consent of nearby residents and business owners.
Rivington Court sits behind a Department of Education building, 145 Stanton Street, that houses three public schools: Lower East Side Prep High School, the School for Global Leaders, and Marta Valle High School. According to DOE Spokesperson Connie Pankratz, Nike struck a simple deal with the schools in order to obtain a permit to use the space for the summer. The sportswear giant agreed to pay all cleaning and security costs resulting from the operation of Rivington Court (amounting to a fee of approximately $15,000), and offered some additional perks for students.
“At the end of the summer, Nike has offered to replace the school’s old basketball courts with two state of the art courts,” explained Pankratz in an email. “In addition, Nike has agreed to provide the school with new equipment including basketballs, new nets, ball racks, training equipment and uniforms.”
Yet as Rivington Court prepared to open, a poster appeared in the neighborhood decrying the court’s presence in a public facility. Urging “Say NO to Nike’s Occupation of Public Property,” the poster called upon locals to organize in order to “reclaim our community play area” for kids on the LES.
The man behind those posters, LES resident Francis DiDonato, made an appearance on East Village Radio on June 20th, telling DJ team AndrewAndrew that the court was once fully available to the public during summer months. “That playground has been accessible to the community for years and years and years,” he said. “It was a very lively community space.”
He argued that tight funding for city schools had caused the corporate use of the yard, and suggested that dire fiscal conditions had probably forced the schools to agree to receive relatively little from Nike in return. “They’re only paying $15,000, for that much space in Manhattan, for the whole summer? I mean, that’s insane,” he said.
Neighborhood kids, he told AndrewAndrew, are paying a steep price for a corporation’s gain. “It’s not like our kids can go in there and use the space anymore—it’s Nike’s. You know, they kind of pretend that they’re including the neighborhood in this thing, and I think there’s a couple hours during the week when you can go in and watch these people play basketball.” He said that he had heard from several local community activists after making his poster, and hoped to hold meet with them soon about the issue.
Games held at Rivington Court are free and open to the public, and some local youngsters have been getting a chance to play on the court this month. Thanh Bui, director of the Beacon Community Center at Grand Street Settlement, worked out an agreement with Game Seven Marketing that allows kids to play at Rivington Court for a few hours each Saturday. In years before Rivington Court’s arrival, Beacon Center had consistent access to the yard during the summer months, Bui said. But Game Seven contacted her in mid June, expressing an interest in making Rivington Court available to local kids for several hours each week.
Bui said that conversations had initially been exciting: she and a Game seven representative discussed opening the court for Beacon Center kids on Friday and Saturday afternoons in July and August. She said they also spoke about the possibility of Nike providing jerseys and other equipment for kids. As the court’s start date drew nearer, however, Game Seven contacted her with disappointing news: due to budget constraints, Friday court time and jerseys were now off the table, and Saturday hours might not be possible in August. “It seemed like it was going to happen,” Bui said, adding, “I still have to find out about August.”
Uncertain that the Beacon Center would be able to use the court next month, Bui cut a scheduled youth tournament in half. But she voiced hope that her agreement for Saturdays at the new facility will continue. “It’s a beautiful court they get to play on,” she said. Game Seven Marketing and Nike did not respond to requests for comment.
Residents’ concerns also include noise from crowds and the court’s sound system during evening hours, when exhibition games are played. While noise from the court’s speakers is legally required to cease at 10 p.m. each night, Community Board 3 has received lots of complaints about noise in the late evening, said District Manager Susan Stetzer. She said plans for Rivington Court went ahead without any consultation of the Community Board—the principals of the three schools connected to the yard are authorized to make decisions about the use of the yard without consulting representatives from the local community.
“Not only was the community board not notified, it seems that none of the impacted neighbors or businesses were notified,” she stated. “I have been receiving calls from neighbors, including businesses, who are not only outraged that their immediate residential area has been turned into a nighttime arena, which does not fit into zoning regulations, but they were not given any notice.” She added that the DOE will be invited to the Youth and Education committee meeting in September, where they will be welcome to participate in discussions about constituents’ concerns.
Pankratz, the DOE spokeswoman, said. “schoolyard use does not fall under the purview of the Community Board… “Game Seven was given an Extended Use Permit for the schoolyard which requires that games end by 10pm. We are working to ensure that this deadline is observed.”
Stetzer argued that although the schools, Nike and Game Seven Marketing have cooperated lawfully in creating Rivington Court, residents of the neighborhood deserved better opportunities to participate in discussions about the public space. “There seems to be no accountability to the surrounding impacted community,” she said. “This may be ‘legal,’ but it doesn’t mean that it is right.”