By Michael McDowell
There will be no joy in Mudville if the city moves forward with a plan to use the baseball fields at 77th Street in Riverside Park as staging grounds for the planned reconstruction of the 79th Street Rotunda. Those fields are used by West Side Little League, and some community members are adamant that they be left alone.
The potential loss of the ballfields at 77th Street came to light at a meeting on Monday, in which the NYC Department of Transportation and the Department of Parks & Recreation presented their current plan to reconstruct the 79th Street Rotunda to Community Board 7 and members of the community.
The rotunda is a complex and historic piece of transportation infrastructure used by automobiles, buses, cyclists, and pedestrians. It includes entrances and exits to the West Side Highway, the Hudson River Greenway, as well as the Boat Basin Cafe and a subterranean parking lot. In recent years it has fallen into disrepair.
Repair and reconstruction is set to begin in 2019, and is estimated to last four years. If the ballfields are used as a staging ground for this construction, it’s likely the fields may not be usable for even longer, given the time needed for restoration. The contractor ultimately selected for the project will be obligated to restore the fields after the project is completed.
The ballfields are the most attractive option, would result in the least disruption to Riverside Park, and are closest to the construction area, according to a DOT representative. In addition, “the amount of space the contractor will need to mobilize and stage equipment and material, it is not possible to amass the amount of space that they will need and eliminate using both of those ballfields…[DOT acknowledges] the impact to the community, but there is no other way that this structure is going to be built.”
Community Board members and locals who showed up to the meeting disagreed with that assessment.
“This is a horrible decision…the impact that this will have, you have basically chosen the spot that will maximize the biggest impact for the longest period of time on the people you don’t want to [impact], which [are] kids. This is something I implore you to immediately change,” said Steven Brown, a member of Community Board 7. “I will not vote for this until I am told that the [staging of the construction on the ballfields] will not be done,” he added.
“I was a West Side Little League coach for nine years. We used those fields for nine seasons,” said a community member. “Most boys and girls have a very limited window of baseball exposure. Six, seven, eight, nine, ten, maybe eleven. So what you’re proposing, for four years—it’s an outrage. You cannot do this to the community…It’s not just for the kids, it’s for the whole community.”
DOT doesn’t mandate staging areas to contractors. That’s a means and methods issue, as where contractors choose to stage construction can have a major impact on costs, an agency spokesperson responded.
DOT has considered other options, including a segment of 79th Street, east of Riverside Drive, where four lanes are available. Two lanes would be utilized, meaning that a section of 79th Street in this area would be narrowed to just two lanes during construction. West of Riverside Drive, DOT has also considered the cloverleaf areas to the north and south of the on- and off-ramps to the West Side Highway. If this area were used, trees would be removed, and the contractor would have to level ground. Another option, a barge, would result in impact to use of the popular esplanade, which runs along the Hudson River.
Klari Neuwelt, a member of Community Board 7, suggested the use of parking lots at 95th Street. DOT indicated this space was likely to be used for work on the Riverside Drive Viaduct.
Neither DOT nor Parks have spoken to the West Side Little League.
Ultimately, given the unanimous and vehement opposition to the use of the ballfields as a staging area for the rotunda reconstruction, an agency representative stated that DOT would “look at the staging area request.”
The Rag reached out to Community Board 7 and the West Side Little League for comment, and we will update this story as additional information becomes available.
DOT and Parks will next meet with Community Board 7 on January 10, to discuss changes and improvements related to the structure’s landmark status, before DOT and Parks appear before the LPC. An advisory vote on the design by the full board will follow, and could occur as soon as January 28.