Cyclist donates $40M to Brooklyn Bridge Park for bike track, sports facility

The bubble bursts! Brooklyn Bridge Park won’t get promised indoor field
Photo by Stefano Giovannini

A wealthy cyclist will pay the city $40 million to build an athletics complex featuring a velodrome at Brooklyn Bridge Park — realizing the longtime dream of open space advocates whose hopes were dashed last year when park officials pulled the plug on a modest sports bubble.

On Thursday millionaire philanthropist Joshua Rechnitz announced he will donate the eye-opening sum — which is one of the largest ever made to a single park in city history — to cover the costs of a year-round recreational facility on Furman Street near Pier 5.

“We want this to truly be a community endeavor that will add amenities for park users and provide a much needed all-weather sports facility,” said Rechnitz, a grandson of the late investor Robert Heilbrunn and founder of NYC Fieldhouse, an organization that’s spent years searching for a suitable site in the city to build a competitive track cycling arena.

The center’s main feature will be the 200-meter inclined cycling track, equipped to host major races. Plans for the massive building — which is slated to be roughly the size of two football fields — include space for high school, college, and professional sports such as basketball, tennis, and gymnastics, as well as amenities including a public boathouse and bathrooms.

Rechnitz’s fieldhouse by the foot of Joralemon Street will replace the proposed sports bubble, which would have been open from December to March but did not include rest rooms or locker rooms.

The city secured $750,000 for the construction of the bubble last August, after the state and Mayor Bloomberg struck a controversial deal to allow luxury housing in the park to pay for its $16-million annual upkeep. But the bubble plan popped four months later after the city failed to attract a developer to fund the rest of the project.

The project’s collapse infuriated community leaders who have pushed for an indoor recreational complex on the Brooklyn Heights waterfront for the past 30 years. Indeed, the park’s original master plan in 2000 included a sports hub on Pier 5, but the design was ditched in favor of the seasonal structure that the city eventually abandoned.

Park advocates cheered Rechnitz after learning of his enormous donation.

“Anyone who would do this deserves a big salute,” said Judi Francis, the president of the Brooklyn Bridge Park Defense Fund. “This is a big step in the right direction, and reinforces what we’ve been saying all along.”

The city is moving forward with the rest of its plans for Pier 5, which include a regulation-sized soccer field, a playground, promenade and barbecue station at the southern end of the $350-million, 85-acre waterfront open space.

The Bloomberg administration agreed to spend $55 million, but cut its share down to $44 million during last summer’s bruising fight over housing in the park. The city announced on Thursday that the funding will be restored — but the reversal was largely overshadowed by news of the park’s unlikely new benefactor.

Brooklyn Bridge Park Corporation President Regina Meyer gushed over the donation — and vowed to give residents a say in designing the sports space — but steered clear of providing details on the project’s timetable.

“I am thrilled at the magnitude and generosity of this gift,” Meyer said. “I look forward to working with community and recreation stakeholders to examine this proposal in full and evaluate how it can enhance Brooklyn Bridge Park’s legacy.”