A neighborhood coalition agreed last night to work within the framework of Community Board 3 to address concerns about community access at Basketball City, a private facility opening soon on Pier 36. The terms of a “community benefits agreement” will be evaluated by the board’s waterfront subcommittee, which has met only infrequently in recent years but has a long history of dealing with the issue. CB3 Chairman Dominic Pisciotta said he would appoint new “public members” of the panel, including representatives from some of the organizations in the coalition.
Last month, the coalition came before the parks committee to outline a proposed agreement they have been discussing with Bruce Radler, Basketball City’s owner. In many ways, it is similar to a deal the Community Board worked out with Basketball City three years ago. The main difference: the waterfront coalition’s new proposal called for the establishment of a “community advisory board,” made up of CB3 members, as well as other neighborhood activists. But it would have operated independently of CB3, which parks committee members believed would have usurped the community board’s authority.
During last night’s meeting, the coalition presented the findings of a report they prepared a few months ago, “A People’s Plan for the East River Waterfront.” It was based on the results of 800 surveys, community visioning sessions and a town hall meeting. According to the report, residents have a strong desire for affordable and no-cost recreational facilities on the waterfront – not luxury development catering to a gentrified population.
After the presentation, several residents were given the opportunity to speak. Two older men, addressing the committee in Chinese, said the waterfront should meet the needs of low-income residents. Another resident, Sam Vasquez, thanked the community board for the work it had already done but he said “we’re here to let you know we have concerns… there have been almost 15 deaths (in the area). We need recreational spaces for our young people.”
CB3’s Anne Johnson, a member of the waterfront subcommittee, said the board had a long track record of “fighting for affordable housing.” Johnson, who lived in the Smith Houses for 38 years, said she would “die supporting low income people.” Suggesting that the coalition’s report was a waste of money, she added, “we fought for the waterfront for years and years and years. The only difference is we weren’t paid a dime.”
Esther Wang, a coalition spokesperson, emphasized, “a lot of our goals are the same. Our efforts are not meant to disrespect the work of the community board.” Harvey Epstein, a CB3 member and a leader of the coalition, thanked Radler for his willingness to listen to the community’s concerns. He said the proposed agreement is simply a means to assure commitments made now are legally binding for the duration of Basketball City’s 20-30 year lease.
Radler did not speak last night. A former NBA player, Jamel Thomas, told the committee recreational facilities like Basketball City help keep kids out of trouble. Committee member Tom Parker, recalling Basketball City’s old facility on the West Side, said the company has a great track record in New York City. Parker was an assistant coach with the public school athletic league, which used Basketball City’s facilities. He said the company had a strong relationship with his teams and the surrounding community.
Basketball City will have 7 courts, a meeting room, a merchandise store, locker rooms, catering facilities and a 15-thousand square foot deck overlooking the East River. Radler has agreed to provide reduced court fees to CB3 residents and access to the community room.
The coalition wants to see members appointed to the subcommittee representing the “community’s diversity,” including residents of public housing projects. Pisciotta said he would be accepting applications for “public members” to join the panel. The application can be found on Community Board 3’s web site.
The Waterfront Coalition is made up of several neighborhood organizations, including the Urban Justice Center, the Hester Street Collaborative, the Two Bridges Neighborhood Council, Organizing Asian Communities, Good Old Lower East Side. Jews for Racial and Economic Justice, University Settlement and the Lower East Side Ecology Center.