Usually the thing that stalls park improvements is lack of funding, but for the Marine Park bocce courts, the hang up appears to be insufficient beauty.
This year Councilman Lew Fidler (D–Marine Park) appropriated big bucks for long-overdue renovations to Marine Park’s bocce, tennis, and handball courts. Some of that moolah is earmarked for a pre-fabricated canopy to cover the park’s bocce lanes, but the Parks Department can’t purchase it without the okay the city’s notoriously finicky aesthetic gatekeeper — the Public Design Commission.
“The Parks Department can use the funding I have provided to purchase a perfectly acceptable pre-fabricated covering for the bocce courts,” Fidler explained to an audience of park fans at a recent Marine Park Civic Association meeting. “But the policy of the Public Design Commission is to reject any pre-fabricated materials.”
County Democratic leader Frank Seddio ran into the same frustration during his brief tenure in the state legislature, when he earmarked $50,000 for a bocce court canopy only to see the project scuttled by the Public Design Commission.
“They wanted some ridiculous number,” said Seddio. “There are two types of structures they considered — a permanent one they said would cost $250,000 that could have withstood an atomic bomb, and a prefabricated structure that would have cost around $70,000 and could have lasted 30 years.”
Fidler said the commission’s policy banning pre-fabricated structures from city parks means that a simple shade canopy for the bocce courts could cost as much as $750,000.
Lack of money isn’t really the issue — Fidler has appropriated about $2 million for Marine Park this year, on top of an even larger sum the councilman already allocated in previous years to these park projects. In total, Brooklyn’s biggest park has $5.15 million coming its way through Fidler alone, according to the Parks Department.
What rankles Fidler, Seddio and other park boosters is the seemingly arbitrary requirement to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on covering the bocce courts when Marine Park’s other amenities need so many other costly repairs.
The park’s 15 tennis courts haven’t been repaved in over a decade — a renovation that could cost as much as $3 million by itself. The three bocce courts also badly need repaving and new sideboards. Only two are usable, and the only decent one is maintained by the long-suffering Marine Park Bocce Club.
Fidler said he plans to fight the design commission to allow Parks to install the less-expensive court cover to make sure that the is more money available to other vital repairs.
“I’ll fight like hell to get it through,” said Fidler. “I expect to succeed.”
Seddio is also on the warpath against the commission.
“I’m not sure what role the Public Design Commission has,” he said. “I could understand if they’re in Central Park and they’re going to play around with the statue. But my problem with these types of groups is they’re out of touch with the reality of the situation and these enormously expensive projects.”
With the new fieldhouse and senior center finally open, Marine Park’s bocce brigade expects the several hundred seniors enrolled in the active adult program to take up the game — meaning, these long-overdue repairs couldn’t come soon enough.
“They say they’ve got 1,000 people signed up for the field house, and for senior citizens bocce ball is a big past time,” said Billy Cranston, a four-year member of the Marine Park Bocce Club. “But the way things are right now, we won’t have any room for them.”
If the repairs come to fruition they could reinvigorate the club, which has seen it membership roll dwindle along with the quality of the courts.
“The club is dying off little-by-little,” said longtime member Pete Terranova. “The Parks Department is doing their part to kill it.”
Marine Park’s tennis players, who pay $200-per-year for access to the city’s public courts, would be more than happy to see the courts fixed up, considering they haven’t see more than a modest paint job over the past decade.
“There are cracks all around, the nets are torn, and we need new screens all around,” said Henri Maguet, who has played tennis at Marine Park for the last eight years. “There isn’t one court you can’t complain about.”Reach reporter Colin Mixson at cmixson@cn