2007-06-29 / Front Page

Guyanese Event Not Permitted

By Brian Magoolaghan

The permit was denied, but only time will tell if that's enough to keep tens of thousands of Guyanese celebrants from jamming Floyd Bennett Field on July 8th.

"We don't know what's going to happen," a spokesperson for Gateway National Recreation Area told The Wave this week. "Only the Guyanese community knows."

What the NPS does know is that about 40,000 men, women and children of Guyanese descent flocked to Floyd Bennett Field last July for the ninth-annual Guyanese-American Family Fun Day, which is traditionally held on the first Sunday after July Fourth. The same event drew similar crowds to Jacob Riis Park in 2005, causing police to close the park early and turn people and vehicles away.

Officials said that the sheer volume of people and motor vehicle traffic overwhelmed park facilities and staff, especially public safety workers and cleanup crews. Traffic was snarled on the Marine Parkway-Gil Hodges Memorial Bridge, Flatbush Avenue and the Belt Parkway.

"You're taking the equivalent of Shea Stadium and plopping it down at Floyd Bennett Field," said NPS spokesperson Brian Feeney.

That's a fairly accurate assessment; the stadium's average attendance for a Mets game comes in a little higher at about 44,400 people, according to the latest Major League Baseball statistics. But Riis Park and Floyd Bennett Field aren't "equipped" to handle such massive crowds, according to Lisa Eckert, the superintendent of the Jamaica Bay Unit of Gateway National Park. Gateway officials have recently assessed and implemented "carrying capacities" of 4,500 cars/ 14,000 visitors for Riis Park and 3,000 cars/8,000 people for Floyd Bennett Field.

Eckert said last year's event at Floyd Bennett Field was a public safety nightmare and could have turned deadly. The Guyanese-American Social Club was issued a permit for 1,500 people, but more than 25 times that amount showed up. Crowd control and emergency vehicle access quickly became an issue, Eckert said. Awoman went into labor, there were people barbecuing inside the Ryan Visitor Center and hundreds of tents were pitched on the historic airport's runway areas. Some revelers started hurling glass bottles when Eckert tried to shut down the music stage as sundown approached, she said. (Gateway is open from sunrise to sunset because the vast majority of the park is unlit at night.)

Organizers provided 20 porta-potties for the enormous crowd, instead of the 1-per-150-people requirement in their permit agreement. When all was said and done, the NPS issued the organizers a bill for $67,000 to cover expenses, including police overtime and a weeklong cleanup effort.

Eckert said the bill was never paid and that she denied the Guyanese- American Social Club's 2007 application in February and told them they'd be subject to possible fines and imprisonment if they held an unsanctioned event. Since then, she has attended meetings with organizers and elected officials to sort things out and perhaps find a more appropriate venue. Those organizers, who Eckert said are John Chapman and George Poulis, have recently said they are not planning an event at Riis Park or Floyd Bennett.

"There will be no Family Fun Day on July 8," Poulis declared this week. He admitted that the Guyanese-American Social Club promoted the event but has since ceased. He acknowledged the "deplorable state" the Floyd Bennett Field was left in last year and conceded that the potential for a large crowd still exists because so many may go out of habit. "It's not advisable for them to go," he said.

Claire Goring, the director of a separate New York event called the Guyana Folk Festival, said she's not sure what to tell people who are calling her about Family Fun Day.

"So many persons are calling to ask me," she said. "I understand that it might not be there this year, but I have no official information."

Chapman did not return our call. The telephone number for the Guyanese- American Ambassador's Association, which has also been affiliated with the event, is disconnected.

Doubt remains over whether simply denying a permit and setting attendance caps will be enough to stop a wave of 40,000 people if it is in fact coming. Eckert said her staff has been on the lookout for any advertisements related to the event, for which organizers traditionally sell tickets in advance. They haven't seen any, but, as Feeney pointed out, "Word of mouth seems to be very effective in the Guyanese community."

Eckert and Feeney said that the park's capacity limits will be strictly enforced all summer and that people will not be allowed to pitch tents or set up a music stage.

While Gateway officials are taking a "no permit, no event" stance, Eckert and Feeney said they have discussed the potential for enormous crowds with the U.S. Park Police and local NYPD precincts.

"We have to do our best to provide for public safety and health," Feeney explained.

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They go into Neponsit looking for parking, when no parking is permitted yearround on streets of Neponsit. They even have the nerve to ask to park in homeowners driveways. They (the City of New York should stop this event they disrupt the lives of the people who keep Neponsit beautiful and safe.

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