City officials have commandeered a public basketball court at the North Meadow Recreation Area in the middle of Central Park around 97th street and are using it for parking. And the inside of the rec center is also being converted to Central Park Conservancy offices. Now some of the people who have used the space are calling for it to be restored to the public.
“The change slowly started from a public recreation center to an unlicensed parking lot with offices, garage repair shop, park department and park enforcement space over a 30 year period,” wrote Abe Pitsirilos, a local resident and handball player who has pushed for the spaces to be returned to public use. “It has gotten out of hand in the last 10 years. With the kids recreation rooms changed to conservancy space.”
“The players group that play racket ball, hand ball and tennis have had petitions and meetings with the conservancy, community board 7, council members. Congressmen, senators with limited results. They park on the basketball courts because they can and the city or park commissioner will not stop them.”
Neither the city nor the conservancy responded to our inquiries. Mark Levine, a local city councilman who also chair’s the council’s parks committee said he has been looking into the issue and wants the public to have more access.
“I very much want this to be restored to public use,” he said in an interview. The conservancy told Levine’s office that the rec room and multipurpose room, which were once public spaces (there was even a publicly available climbing wall inside) haven’t been used for public recreation for almost a decade. The conservancy is now turning the rec room into offices, while the multipurpose space may be used for educational programs in the future.
Stephanie Pitsirilos wrote this summer that the basketball courts have been clear on some days, but they always seem to get filled up with cars again, keeping people from playing. “What’s baffling about this is that this is clearly a basketball court, with seemingly new nets installed. That was the intention here, so it’s not like we’re asking for the city to transform a space that was once delegated for vehicles to be used by pedestrians (although those causes are sometimes just too).”
The cars, she adds, are a danger to people playing nearby too, because they are constantly coming and going in highly trafficked areas.
Upper West Sider Sue Susman started a petition to “save Central Park’s North Meadow facilities from privatization” that had 276 signatures last we checked.
“The Central Park Conservancy is increasingly converting facilities in the North Meadow to offices and private meeting rooms not accessible to neighborhood people who have no other recreational outlet. The rec room & climbing wall are gone; the basketball tournament area is usually a parking lot; cars drive across the handball courts. Hazardous pesticides are being stored just outside. The landmarked North Meadow facility has been altered outside and in. The Conservancy should augment public facilities, not destroy them.”
Abe Pitsirilos says that he sees the good the conservancy does in other areas, but that he considers the group a “bully” in this case.
Stephanie says that losing the center and the outside area is a blow to the neighborhood.
“North Meadow has always been a part of our lives. Siblings went to nursery school there, I taught at their summer camp. That rec center is a meeting place for old residents, new residents, a fading Upper West Side.”
She says she’s hoping Levine will get back to them with good news about making sure more space is available to the public. “Our calls and questions have remained unanswered from his office, even when the issue was raised in person. That said, we look forward to any support in getting our courts back.”