City’s Plan to Park Construction Equipment on Little League Fields Booed by Community Board

City officials and community members discussed the 79th Street rotunda project this week.

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.

NEWS, OUTDOORS | 14 comments | permalink
    1. aphasian says:

      The view from these ballfields is amazing, but to be honest, the Morningside Park ballfields are a better spot to play – real dugouts, more space for parents to stand, plenty of extra field space for messing around, and easily reachable via car/taxi.

      • Judd Cady says:

        To Aphasian,

        While I agree that the Morningside fields are a lovely place for kids to play LL ball. I think you may have missed the point here. The problem is not one that can be solved by going to another ballfield. Those ballfields at Morningside Park are already at full capacity during the spring and fall LL seasons. Where will the kids who are using them now play? The problem is a lack of an adequate number of fields for kids to play on period. Eliminating 2 ball fields for several years will deprive any number of 6-10 year olds the experience of playing our national pastime.And their parents the opportunity to share those, sometimes frustrating-sometimes exhilarating experiences.Of course that must be weighed against the opportunity for people to enjoy brunch under the highway, without fearing decaying concrete falling into their benedicts….ah what to do?

    2. Mark says:

      How about they just pave the 79th Street exit and entrance. It hasn’t been paved in 30 years!

    3. Pedestrian says:

      Decsions like this are made to show residents just who is in charge. Don’t irritate the administration. If you do they will punish you.

    4. EagleEye says:

      Why no mention of a far more important discussion of DOT’s plans which totally fail to create a protected bike lane?

    5. Michael says:

      Float construction barges contiguous with the construction site area. Or use only the larger of the 2 ballfields (perhs in conjunction with latter). Or create a temp landfill by the boat basin in conjunction with temporary docking/const barges. (Much of BPCity LManh is landfill.) Give me a call DOT draw up further idea plans for you

    6. Juan says:

      I appreciate the fact that they are at least seeking some feedback on this and trying to present some alternatives.

      Those fields are used constantly by WSLL and others. Field space for youth sports is already extremely limited, and this would only exacerbate that problem. I am sure there are those who don’t really care about youth sports, but I and many others think that they are one of the core missions of the park.

      If I recall, there are some fairly large grassy areas in the park at 79th just off Riverside. I know these are used by picnickers, sunbathers, etc. but they are much fewer than the number of people using the ballfields. Perhaps these areas could be used? The cloverleafs are the only other option that really makes sense. Traffic there is already pretty bad and I’m sure will be worsened by the construction, so shutting down part of the road will just make things unbearable.

      Thanks for the helpful update, WSR!

    7. AC says:

      As an Engineer, while I’m totally against the idea, its the most reasonable one, considering the lack of area to mobilize and stage. I played on those fields growing up and know they kept me off the streets. I would only suggest that the Contractor not only restore, but also improve the fields so that they extend the outfield(s) further out (perhaps to the highway). The area between fields and the highways is useless. Maybe create a multiple fields, which could be used for multiple sports (baseball, soccer, etc.).

      If we’re going to do this, let’s do it right and make it a win-win for all!

    8. Todd Wernstrom says:

      Having been a WSLL coach for a number of years (with very fond memories), I know these fields well. This will be a disaster for WSLL. To suggest, as one other poster did, that fields at Morningside Park (or anywhere, for that matter) can be used instead is not to understand how fields are allocated for this program. There are too few fields available as is. Losing two anywhere where WSLL plays will cause a significant hardship for scheduling games and practice times. WSLL is a vital part of the UWS experience for countless kids and parents. Whatever needs to be done to reverse this decision needs to be done.

    9. Cato says:

      Very simple solution: Just use Teddy Roosevelt Park, around the Museum of Natural History, instead of the ballfields.

      It’s not like anyone in the surrounding community would mind, y’know?

    10. OMClassic says:

      Aren’t there like 10 ball fields 5 blocks away in central park? And there is another ballfield like 2 blocks south in Hudson River Park…

    11. ST says:

      The CP Conservancy has turned all of CP into abgiant parking lot. Vehicles parked everywhere yet not in use. Where did it get the money to buy all its toys?

    12. Wags says:

      How about the DOT and Parks Dept actually work together and provide the WSLL two dedicated ball fields in Central Park to the club for their use while this construction takes place. Surely a club focused on providing 100s of kids recreation activity would be a priority to carve out two fields for their use. If they need to displace adult teams in Central Park to make capacity send the adult teams to Randal’s island. Surely our youth who are our future should not be the ones to suffer for 4 years because of road construction. Are we that callous?