2006-07-14 / Community

Gateway Auto Racing Plan Hits Red Flag

Official says Racing 'Not Appropriate' For National Park
By Howard Schwach


The historic control tower at Floyd Bennett Field. For many years the field was a municipal airport and then, at the beginning of World War II, a Naval Air Station. Most recently, the Ryan Visitor's Center is the centerpiece of Gateway National Urban Recreational Area.The historic control tower at Floyd Bennett Field. For many years the field was a municipal airport and then, at the beginning of World War II, a Naval Air Station. Most recently, the Ryan Visitor's Center is the centerpiece of Gateway National Urban Recreational Area. In racing circles, a yellow flag warns drivers of danger ahead and orders them to slow down and stay in line. A red flag orders them to stop where they are. No movement is allowed once the red flag comes out.

This week, Gateway National Urban Recreation Area Superintendent Barry Sullivan waved the red flag at developer Geoffrey Whaling and actor Paul Newman, a long time racing buff, bringing to a quick stop their plan to present Grand Prix, open-wheel auto racing at Floyd Bennett Field, a unit at Gateway, for a three-day meet each year. The racing course, running 3.49 miles, would have been set up with temporary stands for spectators along the long-dormant runways at the former Naval Air Station.

The racing plan would have brought 65,000 visitors a day to the park to witness a series of professional races and other related events.

Congressman Anthony Weiner at the recent opening of the Aviator Sports complex at Floyd Bennett Field. Although Weiner supports the sports complex, he fought hard against the plan to bring auto racing to the field.Congressman Anthony Weiner at the recent opening of the Aviator Sports complex at Floyd Bennett Field. Although Weiner supports the sports complex, he fought hard against the plan to bring auto racing to the field. In a letter to Whaling on June 13, however, Sullivan, who recently took over the administration of the park, said that the plan was not going to get his approval because it was not appropriate and because Park Service rules limit the daily attendance for any one event to 10,000 people, well below the number predicted by Whaling and Newman in their presentation to city fathers in May.

Open-wheel cars are capable of going more than 240 miles an hour and often crash spectacularly. The plans called for a main championship race and a series of celebrity races and other events.

Newman told the city fathers in May that much of the money raised from the races would go to both local charities and to build an urban Hole In The Wall Camp, one of a series of camps sponsored by Newman that deal with critically and seriously ill children and teens.

Despite the national press that the event would attract and the offer to donate some of the proceeds to charity, Congressman Anthony Weiner has been against the proposal from the very beginning.

Weiner, who is a sponsor of a sports complex that is expected to open at Floyd Bennett Field in September, said at the time that the plan was illegal for a national park and that the sports complex would "provide recreational opportunities for everyday citizens," something that the racing proposal would not.

"The racing plan has no chance of coming to Gateway Park," he said.

This week, Weiner told The Wave that he applauded Sullivan's decision.

"We welcome smart recreation ideas for Gateway," the congressman told The Wave on Tuesday. "This plan was neither smart nor recreation.

The National Park Service was right to reject it."

Whaling, however, says that he is not going to take Sullivan's rejection without a fight.

He will take his fight to Sullivan's bosses in Washington, D.C., the headquarters of the National Park Service.

"We fully intend to continue to have a dialogue with the community to bring this event to Floyd Bennett Field," Whaling said in a prepared statement.

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