Nets arena at the Atlantic Yards could end Coney’s Sportsplex dream

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Developer Bruce Ratner’s plan to bring the New Jersey Nets to Brooklyn could jeopardize plans to build a Coney Island amateur athletics arena, known as Sportsplex, which had recently gained new life as a possible venue for volleyball in the city’s bid to host the 2012 summer Olympics.

A top official with NYC2012, the group organizing the city’s Olympic bid, indicated Thursday that while the Coney Island site has not been ruled out, Ratner’s Downtown Brooklyn basketball arena has added a new wrinkle to the Olympics plan.

“It’s premature to comment on anything,” said Jay Kriegel, executive director of NYC2012, “but a world-class arena certainly opens up the possibility [of hosting volleyball]. We’re very excited about it.”

If National Basketball Association team owners vote to approve the Nets’ exodus from New Jersey to Downtown Brooklyn, the $2.5 billion, Frank Gehry-designed Atlantic Terminal project, that would include a Nets areana and office and residential towers — could serve both as a site for Olympic basketball and indoor volleyball.

The current Olympic bid details the Nets’ present home in New Jersey, the Continental Airlines arena, as a site for basketball.

And Ratner has stated that local youth athletic groups and schools, as well as colleges and universities, would use the Downtown arena when the Nets were not playing at home, making a Coney island Sportsplex somewhat redundant.

“For the last couple years, being included in the Olympic bid dramatically strengthened the prospects for the [Sportsplex] project,” said Kenneth Adams, president of the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce and the Brooklyn Sports Foundation. “If the plans change, we’ll have to re-evaluate.”

Without inclusion in the plans for the 2012 summer games, the Sportsplex wouldbe on shaky ground for the second time since the idea was floated by then-Borough President Howard Golden in 1987.

The 12,000-seat amateur sports facility had originated with hopes that it would serve high school and college athletes. Set to be built on city-owned land on Surf Avenue between West 19th and West 20th streets, the $70 million project was slated to include an NCAA-regulation basketball court surrounded by a 200-meter, eight-lane track.

But plans for the arena collapsed under the weight of former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani’s interest in bringing professional baseball to Brooklyn and Staten Island. He pushed forward the plan to build a baseball stadium in Coney Island instead. Both the city and state had secured $30 million for Sportsplex and Golden added $7 million from his budget, but when the single-A baseball stadium was erected next to where the storied Thunderbolt roller coaster once stood, all bets were off.

“The people who were behind the Sportsplex were evil,”Councilman Domenic Recchia said of the failed push to build the facility. “When you say Sportsplex a chill goes through me.” He said the consortium of planners behind the project neglected to talk to the community.

Along with other elected officials, Recchia formed the Coney Island Development Corporation last year to rehabilitate the deteriorating neighborhood, in part by creating more jobs and converting the summer hotspot into a year-round destination.

On Thursday, proposals for a Coney Island development plan were due to the city’s Economic Development Corporation. Where, if at all, a Sportsplex arena fits in will become clear after an urban design firm is chosen by the CIDC in the coming months.

“Part of its mandate is to consider year-round recreational, cultural and entertainment uses including a recreational complex,” said Borough President Marty Markowitz, whose sole appointment to the 13-member board was Jon Benguiat, his director of planning and development. “The planning process undertaken by the corporation will include this subject and help to guide our efforts.”

It’s anybody’s guess whether significant interest would still exist for a Sportsplex in Coney Island if it was no longer included in the 2012 Olympic plans. Besides a proposed amateur athletics facility in the Park Slope armory, on Eighth Avenue between 14th and 15th streets, the construction of a similar sports facility in the Bronx was announced earlier this week.

“Would there still be a rationale?” asked Adams, who has been behind the Sportsplex since its conception. “We’d have to sit down with city officials and consider the Sportsplex in the context of the new planning efforts by the Coney Island Development Corporation. We’d have to ask those questions all over again.”

In a 29-page questionnaire released earlier this month, NYC2012 failed to include Coney Island by name in plans for an indoor volleyball arena. A rendering of such a facility identified it only as being in Brooklyn, although most of the other venues were specifically identified. The questionnaire was the final submission to the International Olympics Committee, which will pick the host city next year among finalists that include Moscow and Paris.

The Brooklyn Nets arena would force the group to re-evaluate some of the city’s 20-odd proposals for athletic venues should New York be chosen to host the summer games. Kriegel and a spokesman for NYC2012 contend, however, that plans for a Coney Island Sportsplex have not changed.

“There are a number of venues where circumstances may be changing, but at the moment [keeping indoor volleyball at the Sportsplex is] the plan. But any change we make will have a ripple effect that changes everything.”

Updated 4:00 pm, November 10, 2010
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