Wheels of misfortune! Velodrome plan crashes in Brooklyn Bridge Park

Cycling advocates believe that building a velodrome, similar to this one in Colorado Springs, could attract Olympic-caliber athletes and exciting national races to North Brooklyn.

The wheels have stopped on a philanthropist’s lofty plan to bring an indoor bike track to Brooklyn Bridge Park because the project cannot be built within the $50-million budget.

Park officials say the proposed cycling facility and recreation center, dubbed the Fieldhouse, required more cash than the massive sum velodrome mastermind Joshua Rechnitz wanted to hand over in what would have been the largest donation to a park in Brooklyn’s history.

“Despite months of hard work and assessment by the leadership of the Fieldhouse, it has become clear that the project in Brooklyn Bridge Park is not financially viable,” said a spokeswoman for Rechnitz. “The special requirements of a facility in this location and providing a fieldhouse with the highest quality design exceeded the $50-million budget.”

The unique plan, announced last April, called for a 200-meter, cycling track that could host major races, as well as a boathouse and space for sports like basketball, tennis, and gymnastics.

Planners shifted the design later in the year to allow for more space for other recreational activities after some critics bashed the plan due to the relative obscurity of track cycling, in which spandex-clad riders careen around a steeply banked track on single-gear bikes.

“When you take public land you want to serve as much of the public as you can,” said Brooklyn Heights Association president Jane McGroaty, whose group feared running the velodrome would put Brooklyn Bridge Park — which must cover its own operating costs — in the red. “This kind of cycling is not a sport that is universal … the big fear was that it was going to be financially impossible to sustain itself over the long term.”

Rechnitz even threw in an additional $10 million on top of his original $40-million donation to support the velodrome in its infancy, but concerns about the facility mounted, especially after Hurricane Sandy swept through the open space, the New York Times reports.

Representatives for Brooklyn Bridge Park said they were saddened by the change of plans.

“We are grateful that we were considered for this very generous gift and regret that this project will not come to fruition in the park,” said Brooklyn Bridge Park president Regina Myer.

Other park advocates mourned the loss of the facility and blamed the project’s demise on the controversial decision to cover park costs by building housing inside the green space.

“This is a terrible loss, there is no doubt about it,” said Judi Francis, the president of the Brooklyn Bridge Park Defense Fund, who has fought to get a year-round athletic facility in the park for years. “It only further proves that the interest of housing and those who live in and around the park supersedes the interest of those who need a park for recreation.”

Rechnitz vowed to continue his search for a site to build a velodrome in the New York area.

“I’m determined to find a terrific site on which to build a beautifully designed facility,” the reclusive philanthropist said in a statement. “I greatly regret that this cannot happen in Brooklyn Bridge Park but I am confident that we will find a new home for the Fieldhouse in the very near future.”

He is still forging ahead with his plan to turn a decaying Metropolitan Transportation building known to Gowanus residents as the “Bat Cave” into an arts hub.

Reach reporter Eli Rosenberg at erosenberg@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260-2531. Follow him at twitter.com/emrosenberg.

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