2006-02-24 / Community

Recreation Complex To Open By September

By Roseanne Honan


Pictured: an artist’s rendering of an aerial view of the Aviator Sports and Recreation Complex.Pictured: an artist’s rendering of an aerial view of the Aviator Sports and Recreation Complex. A new sports and recreation facility currently being constructed in rehabbed hangars at Floyd Bennett Field may be open as soon as September 2006.

There are 195 days and counting until the grand opening of Aviator Sports and Recreation Complex, according to the time clock countdown featured on the Aviator website.

The complex will usher in another incarnation of historic Floyd Bennett Field, which once housed the first municipal airport in New York and was utilized as a Naval Air Base during World War II before being decommissioned in 1971. Only a portion of the area is still utilized by the Coast Guard, the NYPD and its Aviation Units, where they are restricted to helicopter flying only.

The multi-million dollar facility will encompass indoor and outdoor activities, including, according to the Aviation website, a 25,000 square foot multi-purpose field house; two NHL regulation-sized ice rinks; catering for parties as large as 1,500 people; and two bi-level 8,000 square foot dining facilities, including a food court and restaurant/ sports bar which promises top-rated food. In total, the indoor area of the complex will be approximately 170,000 square feet; not including the outdoor area, which includes plans for a three quarter-mile track and other fields. And the expansive grounds, which will take up 20 to 25 acres of land, provide plenty of parking spaces, enough to accommodate at least 5,000 cars.

A picture of Floyd Bennett Field’s primary function in the 1930’s: a busy airport. What is now the Ryan Visitor Center (left) was once the air traffic control tower of the airfield. One focal point of the new Aviator Sports and Recreation Complex will be a replica of a Lockheed plane at the entrance to the facilities, similar to an aircraft pictured here. A picture of Floyd Bennett Field’s primary function in the 1930’s: a busy airport. What is now the Ryan Visitor Center (left) was once the air traffic control tower of the airfield. One focal point of the new Aviator Sports and Recreation Complex will be a replica of a Lockheed plane at the entrance to the facilities, similar to an aircraft pictured here. In April of 2003, with the support of Congressman Anthony Weiner, the National Parks Service and Gateway National Recreation Area, Aviator Corporation won a Request For Proposal (RFP) bid and was granted a 20-year contract to “develop and operate the sports complex.” The complex’s completion date was once projected for 2005, but after some time for preparation, the plans are finally coming into fruition.

One of Congressman Weiner’s principal agendas when first elected was to create beneficial projects for residents and undo “a generation of neglect,” particularly at Floyd Bennett Field. The mix of public and private funding for the sports complex project is something the Congressman is very pleased with. “The model of partnering with a private company is something I’m most proud of,” said the Congressman. He also illustrated the innovative use of the historic space, and that the park will become “more than just empty buildings.”

Since 1998, Congressman Weiner has garnered over $34 million dollars for Gateway National Park, with about $15 million of that going towards the Aviation Sports and Recreation Complex project.

In the spirit of Floyd Bennett Field’s historic significance, where pioneering aviators such as Amelia Earhart, Howard Hughes and “Wrong Way” Corrigan took flight, the company was christened Aviator. The corporation was created exclusively for the construction at the Field by various partners experienced in sports venues, including an investment banker who is the former owner of the New York Islanders and Phoenix Coyotes; and a co-founder of Chelsea Piers in Manhattan, among others.

As indicated on the Aviator website, the company is committed to preserving the historical characteristics of Floyd Bennett Field, while introducing a modern approach to sports and recreation. “We are going to adhere to the historical integrity of Floyd Bennett Field, and keep the fa├žade of the hangars intact,” said Marcus Minifee, vice president of marketing and corporate partnerships for Aviator. The development is considered a “reclamation project” of the languishing field and surrounding areas. For many years, Floyd Bennett Field, although a part of the Gateway National Park system, was all but forgotten. The purpose of the complex is to create not only an exciting opportunity to establish more viable park space for the boroughs of Brooklyn and Queens, but also refurbish an area with historic significance that deserves resurgence in community interest, as well as revenue.

The corporation plans on working with the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) to make sure enough public transportation can accommodate visitors, and are thinking of creating a curb cut past the Ryan Visitor Center for closer access to the facilities.

Minifee continued by saying that Aviator Corporation also intends to maintain a “close relationship” with the National Parks Service (NPS) and Gateway, and support their endeavors, including the upcoming 75th Anniversary celebration of Floyd Bennett Field this May.

In conjunction with the anniversary, Aviator plans to introduce a “soft opening” of the complex, with controlled tours of the site and preliminary use of outdoor turf fields for soccer, football and lacrosse, which are currently under construction. The company will also work with the National Park Services and Gateway during the springtime festivities, which will feature a historic plane exhibition and “candy drop” for children. To honor the aviators of the past, the complex will feature a permanent wall display, commemorating achievements in flight.

With the complex’s grand opening not so far off in the future, Congressman Weiner also noted the convenience that the complex will provide for area residents, as well as tourists. An avid hockey player, the Congressman found it an inconvenience to travel to Chelsea Piers for hockey practice. Now with the revitalization of the park, as well as other projects in the works, Rockaway residents will benefit greatly. “There will be a sense of life, a sense of activity,” he said. “It (Aviation Sports and Recreation) will become a destination place not just for tourists, but for residents as well,” he concluded.

For more information about the Aviator Sports and Recreation Center, visit their website at www.aviatorsports.com.

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