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Brooklyn Bridge Park Gets $40 Million Gift to Build Field House

 

Fans of track cycling have for years pursued a quixotic dream: a velodrome in New York City in which to stage indoor bike races. Now Joshua P. Rechnitz has made it come true.

On Thursday, Mr. Rechnitz, a cyclist and the grandson of New York philanthropists, pledged the largest single gift in the history of the city’s parks system — $40 million for a new field house in Brooklyn Bridge Park that will include an indoor cycling track.

The pledge took some city officials by surprise, not just because of its size, but also because it was directed toward the inland side of a popular — though incomplete — waterfront park that still needs tens of millions of dollars to finish construction on its piers.

The field house is to be giant — 115,000 square feet near Pier 5, with a 200-meter inclined cycling track with up to 2,500 seats and a 22,000-square-foot infield that can accommodate other sports, including basketball, tennis, volleyball and gymnastics.

The cycling track could revive a sport that is now followed mainly in Europe, but which once was wildly popular in the city. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, throngs of fans gathered at Madison Square Garden to watch cyclists pedal for days in competitions punctuated by terrific crashes. City lawmakers stepped in to limit the time a racer could ride in one stretch.

“I am thrilled at the magnitude and generosity of this gift, which would invigorate the park in the winter months and provide much-needed active recreation space for youth all over the borough on a year-round basis,” said Regina Myer, president of the Brooklyn Bridge Park Corporation.

In announcing the gift, the corporation’s board of directors said Mr. Rechnitz had offered to underwrite the design and construction of the structure, which would also include a public boathouse, space for park maintenance operations and bathrooms. He has already retained the architect Thomas Phifer, based in New York.

The gift is double the $20 million that Barry Diller and Diane von Furstenberg, his wife, gave to the elevated High Line park last year, which was then the largest single donation ever made to a New York City park. Earlier, the couple had given $15 million to the High Line.

Mr. Rechnitz, who declined to be interviewed, said in a statement that he wanted the site to be a “community endeavor that will add amenities for park users.” To that end, in the coming months, the plan will be presented to athletic organizations, neighborhood groups and two local community boards for their comments.

His spokeswoman, Maureen Connelly, described Mr. Rechnitz, a 46-year-old resident of the Upper West Side, as a “very private person who keeps a low profile.” Mr. Rechnitz’s grandparents, Robert and Harriet Heilbrunn, now deceased, made large gifts to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Natural History, Rockefeller University, Central Park and other institutions.

Ms. Connelly said Mr. Rechnitz had researched sites for a field house for three years, looking in New York City and New Jersey. In 2009, Mr. Rechnitz set his sights on Harlem to build a velodrome, an arena with a banked oval track for bicycle races, but that effort did not come to fruition. When Mr. Rechnitz approached Brooklyn Bridge Park last year, his focus was squarely on indoor cycling. But it quickly broadened. “Once he understood our park,” Ms. Myer said, “it made more sense to make this a multiuse facility, and it became a collaborative discussion.”

Ms. Myer said that during the planning process for the park a decade ago, the local community wanted sites for indoor recreation, but the money was not there. “It became clear that we would not be able to afford that,” she said.

Pier 5 is set to open this fall, with new athletic fields, while development plans call for Pier 2 to offer five acres of racket sports.

In keeping with the park’s mandate to be self-sustaining, fees will be charged for use of the field house, comparable to other city athletic centers, like the 168th Street Armory. But Mr. Rechnitz agreed to cover any shortfall in operating revenue during the first 10 years.

The new field house would occupy the site of a one-story concrete warehouse on Furman Street, south of the Transit Authority buildings near Montague Street. The warehouse is now used for storage, but it would come down to make way for the field house.

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Brooklyn, NY 11201
tel: (718) 222-9939
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brooklynbridgepark@bbpnyc.org

 
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