Alienation of Park Land Continues with Water Park “Development” on Randalls Island

waterpark8n-1-webThe New York Times again reported on the alarming friendship between New York State Senate’s majority leader Joseph L. Bruno and Jared E. Abbruzzese, an investor with Empire Racing Associates, which was awarded an operating franchise for the state’s thoroughbred horseracing tracks.

According to the Times, Abbruzzese’s nanotechnology firm, Evident Technologies, also received $500,000 in state money and had help from Bruno in obtaining $2.5 million in state aid for a joint development project.

What does any of this have to do with a Water Park on Randalls Island?

Abbruzzese is also an investor with the Aquatic Development Group, “winners” of a sole-source bid in 2000 for the 35-year Water Park concession, which City Comptroller William Thompson called a “seriously flawed process.”

Aquatic recently bailed out of a public hearing at the New York City Industrial Development Agency regarding $215,000,000 million bond funding. With no explanation, the company announced that it would instead seek private funding for the project.

The Randalls Island Sports Foundation said the Aquatic Development Group withdrew its bid for IDA bonds simply because it had secured private funding. When asked to name those funding sources, however, The Foundation admitted that Aquatic is still in the process of acquiring investors.

Perhaps the decision had more to do with media reports about Aquatic’s prior brush with bankruptcy in the 1990s or the failure of its president, Herb Ellis, to repay a $1.5 million loan to the Albany IDA.

The New York City Parks Department apparently suffers from the same lack of integrity. Under the leadership of Parks Commissioner Adrian Benape, with the blessing of Mayors Guiliani and Bloomberg, thousands of acres of public land have been systematically turned over to private developers and, in many cases, permanently removed from free and open public use.

On Randalls Island, the Water Park has grown from 12 acres to 26 acres, an area covering the northwestern portion of the island. Construction for the site will also greatly limit the number of ball fields available, with remaining fields most likely awarded to grandfathered permit holders from out-of-district private schools.

Although the Randalls Island Sports Foundation claims that public view of the river will not be blocked by the perimeter fencing or the water park (which will sit on sunken land), the developer’s description of “water slides rising 80 feet into the skyline” does not provide much reassurance. Certainly, public access to the shore will be severely hampered.

With an estimated 1.3 million visitors each year, the Water Park will greatly increase vehicular traffic to and from the island – thus releasing volumes of asthma-producing gas fumes and carcinogens into the atmosphere over the island and surrounding areas.

While the Foundation dismisses claims of environmental risk or damage as “nonsense,” it is a simple fact that that many visitors will also produce that much more pollution – not to mention noise, crime, garbage and contaminated groundwater draining into the nearby Harlem River. Provisions to preserve tranquility in nearby parkland, meanwhile, have never been offered.

The Foundation claims the Water Park is needed to help fund island maintenance and sports activities, yet it provides no details or reports on such financing. Likewise, the Foundation does not provide financial data on concert/stadium event revenue.

Aside from 300 (presumably entry-level) jobs and a few free tickets tossed to targeted agencies negotiated by Community Board 11, the Water Park will provide no direct and lasting financial benefit to neighboring communities.

Clearly, East Harlem Preservation cannot support a Water Park on Randalls Island.

We oppose a process that Comptroller Thompson called “flawed and inconsistent with well-established principles of public bidding.”

We oppose a plan that defies sound environmental and fiscal logic.

We oppose a business that will generate millions of dollars each year with little benefit to the East Harlem community.

We oppose the recent move by Mayor Bloomberg to restrict the rights of other elected officials to review private concessions involving city properties.

We oppose the State Senate majority leader exerting influence over local matters on behalf of their wealthy associates.

Most importantly, we oppose the alienation of precious parkland without due process.

Although Commissioner Benape claims the Water Park will serve a “park use,” it will only do so minimally and for a cost. For East Harlem residents – under whose jurisdiction Randalls Island lies – that is a price too high to pay.

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