2012-08-03 / Top Stories

RAA Gets ‘Cooperative’ No Cost Agreement

NPS: Group Has ‘Mutually-Shared Mission’
By Howard Schwach

While youth sports groups continue to negotiate leases that will cost them thousands of dollars a year with the National Park Service and officials from Gateway National Recreation Area, the Rockaway Artists Alliance has quietly closed a deal that will give them a no-cost venue at Fort Tilden throughout December 2016.

John Harlan Warren, the acting public affairs officer for Gateway clarified the situation in a statement provided to The Wave this week.

“The RAA has a cooperative agreement with the park based on a mutually shared mission of arts-based and interpretive education,” Warren said. “The Rockaway Little League [and other youth sports leagues] do not have that shared mission and therefore must get a lease based on fair market value. The park continues to work with [youth leagues] on that issue and we’re making progress.”

The Rockaway Artists Alliance agreement, officials say, was awarded in December of last year and was a “single source” agreement, meaning that there was no bidding and no other group had a chance for the contract.

NPS officials say they approved the no-bid contract because the RAA’s program “represents a unique or innovative idea, method or approach which is not the subject of a current or planned contract or assistance award, but which is deemed advantageous to the program objectives.”

Those activities include education partnerships, arts education, historic projects and lectures and an arts-based marine and science project.

For many years, Rockaway residents and non-profits enjoyed a “gravy train” at Gateway National Recreation Area, holding an annual free concert series and a Fall Festival at Fort Tilden, playing little league baseball and CYO soccer without cost, and attending cultural activities such as art shows and musical theater.

That run of free activities at the park, officials say, lasted until 2007, when auditors from the agency’s inspector general came to check up on the park’s “private use of public spaces” and came up with the decision that even non-profits such as youth sports and cultural organizations had to pay their fair share of the costs to put on those events.

Parks officials came to The Wave two weeks ago to talk about the changes in how the park addressed the community.

“Up until that audit, the park and the local community were on the gravy train,” said Warren. “After the audit and the cuts to the park’s budget, the gravy train left the station and it’s not coming back.”

“That audit in 2007 said that we were not following the rules,” said Rita Mullally, District Ranger, Jamaica Bay Unit, and longtime Rockaway resident. “The problem did not lie with the community groups, but with us. We wanted to do what was right for the community, and it turned out to be wrong for the park, according to the rules.”

“In the late ’90s, we were a jolly group,” Warren said. “Now, we have less to give and we are not as jolly anymore.”

“The little league has the exclusive use of that land during the summer months,” Warren said of the five-field complex at Fort Tilden. “Because of that, the rules dictate that the organization get a lease. Our experts have figured out that the cost comes to about $20,000 a year for exclusive use of the clubhouse and the fields.

Little league sources have said in the past that the organization takes care of the facility and has developed it to the benefit of the park.

They argue that those improvements should be taken into account when a rental cost is developed.

“We take care of the Fort Tilden fields, we groom them and do all the work on the clubhouse,” a little league parent said. The park service does little for us to warrant that kind of fee.”

Similarly, the Catholic Youth Organization runs a youth soccer league at Fort Tilden.

A CYO official said that four years ago, the CYO paid $1,600 to use the fields for the entire year. Two years ago, that cost was raised to $7,600. Now, the organization has been told, next year the rental cost of the fields will come to more than $20,000 for the season.

Warren says that it charges the CYO $5 daily for each field that it uses, but that the program is so large that the costs go up pretty quickly.

“We understand the CYO’s problem, but the rules require that we charge a fee for the use of our public land.”

“You can never reach out enough to the community,” Warren said. “But this is a national organization with its directions, orders and regulations. It tells us what we have to do, and charging for private use of public land is one of those things it demands.

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