Facing 'Y' Deadline, Pols Ask For Airport Money
More than a decade ago, then- Representative Charles Schumer promised Rockaway a swimming pool at Riis Park. He never delivered, and neither did his protégé Anthony Weiner, who followed him into the House when Schumer moved on to the Senate.
Now, Schumer may well be coming to Rockaway's rescue by pushing the mayor for millions of dollars from a Port Authority of New York and New Jersey capital fund. Those funds would be used to complete the swimming pool at the YMCA under-construction on Beach 73 Street in Arverne.
Those extra funds, nearly $5 million, are needed if the Arverne by the Sea YMCA is to expand the pool from four to six lanes and enclose the basketball courts. If Mayor Bloomberg listens to Senator Schumer, the complete Y may be one step closer to fruition. The operative words are "may be."
At a meeting held earlier this month, the members of Community Board 14 expressed the wishes of many in the community by asking for a six-lane swimming pool and an enclosed gymnasium with a basketball court. The original proposal calls for a four-lane pool and an outdoor basketball court. That proposal sparked a collective "disappointment" from the majority of board members and ignited a two-month scurry to come up with the extra funds.
This week, however, a step was taken towards obtaining the estimated $5 million needed, when Senator Schumer and other elected officials wrote letters to the mayor asking for the money to completely fund the project. Schumer says that the money should come from the $100 million Port Authority capital fund that provides money to air traffic-affected areas neighboring JFK and LaGuardia airports, of which only $40 million has already been used for improvements in the communities surrounding JFK Airport. That leaves a pot of $60 million, Schumer reckons, far more than is needed for the Y project in Rockaway.
Schumer believes that the Rockaway YMCAexpansion plan is a great candidate for the funds, considering the amount of air traffic that the area receives.
"So many planes overhead for decades should entitle them to access the Port Authority capital funds," Schumer said. "The Queens Capital funding was set aside for needs like this, and Rockaway residents should be given full consideration for this worthy cause."
Community Board 14 District Manager, Jonathan Gaska, knows that the residents of Rockaway will benefit immensely from the YMCA and that Rockaway is certainly an area impacted by air traffic. He said the idea of using the Port Authority funds was first conceived last month during a meeting of elected officials at Borough Hall.
"Very few communities have suffered more from airports than Rockaway," Gaska said. "If they want to assist affected neighborhoods, Rockaway would be perfect and everyone in the community will benefit from a YMCA built here."
The $13 million that has already been allocated came from the developers, Benjamin/Beechwood, LLC, and the majority of Queens elected officials, for the two-story 32,000 squarefoot building on the northwest corner of Beach 73 Street and Rockaway Beach Boulevard. Plans will include a 67-car parking lot, fully equipped fitness gym and exercise studio with locker rooms, and a little league baseball field outside.
"Where there is a will, there's a way," Gaska said about the Port Authority funds. "$5 million is not really a lot, considering the city has a $50 billion surplus, and it would really make the project perfect."
"The Rockaways deserve a first-class facility that will serve the future and current needs of its population," Schumer said in the letter to Mayor Bloomberg.
Councilman James Sanders, who chaired the Community Advisory Board in 2005 that distributed the Port Authority funds, is in support of the idea also. According to a spokesperson for Sanders, a letter of support was written to the mayor with Borough President Helen Marshall, outlining their support for the distribution of money to the YMCA.
However, the time to act is now. The money must come in quickly, or it may drive up the cost of the project or delay the anticipated 2009 opening. Any changes to the project blueprints must be made before major phases of construction begin. The Community Board asked for a 60-day hold on approving finalized plans for the facility, which is to expire sometime in November. Therefore, time is critical.
Minor construction has already begun to prepare the site for building, and Gerard Romski, representative for Benjamin/Beechwood LLC, a partner in the Arverne by the Sea development project, is preparing right now to build the plans as designed.
"We are now proceeding with the original plans, until told differently," Romski said. "The Community Board was given 60 days; we'll see what happens."