Tag Archive | "parks department"

Bronx Cricketers Push For More Pitches

The Columbia Cricket Club and the Long Island Kings play a cricket match at Van Cortlandt Park on Sept 22. © Syra Ortiz-Blanes

Dressed in classic cricket whites, the players waited for their batsman to play the match’s crucial moment in Van Cortlandt Park. The Columbia Cricket Club had only one more chance to beat the Long Island Kings, who had scored 114 runs. As the bowler pitched the ball, the players watched from their place on the cricket pitch. When the batsman struck the winning run, they erupted into cheers. Their teammates on the sidelines stormed the field. Columbia Cricket Club had chased 115 runs with three wickets to spare. The team was going to the league playoffs.

Columbia Cricket Club players cheer on their teammates who are on the field. © Syra Ortiz-Blanes

Every weekend, the Bronx’s Van Cortlandt Park becomes a hub for New York City cricket. On a Sunday morning in late September, the 1 train headed to the borough was packed with players lugging their bats and equipment. Family and friends set up beach chairs on the sidelines to watch games. Spectators kept score and retired players served as umpires. South Asian and Caribbean music played from portable speakers.

Queens, Brooklyn, and the Bronx are among the country’s cricket hotspots. In New York City alone, there are more than 200 teams.

Experts say the sport is one of the fastest-growing in the United States. The Bronx is home to immigrants from some of the world’s most cricket-devout countries, including a Bangladeshi population that has more than tripled since 1990.

The Columbia Cricket Club and the Long Island Kings shake hands after the game finishes. © Syra Ortiz-Blanes

“Cricket gives us identity. It’s like a culture to us. It’s like a religion. We can’t stop playing,” said Lokendra Chauhan, captain of the Columbia Cricket Club.

Players from the Columbia Cricket Club, one of the largest clubs in New York City, are from India, Australia, Antigua, Pakistan, South Africa, England, New Zealand, Sri Lanka, and Bangladesh. It also has one of the few American-born players in the city, an Irish school teacher with no tradition of the sport. 

For many immigrants, playing is a way to remain close to home and build community as they navigate life in the United States. “You have been living in one country, you leave everyone and everything behind for a better future,” said Chauhan, who is from India.

“Cricket brings us a family life.” 

But the rapidly-growing, cricket-loving immigrant population has put increased pressure on the Bronx’s pitches, with demand for playing time exceeding available fields, according to borough cricket leadership.

The Bronx’s three home leagues—New York Cricket League, Commonwealth Cricket League, and the newer Royal Premier League—share the pitches at Van Cortlandt Park, Soundview Park, and Ferry Point Park. 

“We need to play. We need space. There is a demand for space on the weekends,” said Milford Lewis, who was president of the New York Cricket League for 11 years until 2017. 

A traditional cricket match lasts around five days, but the cab drivers, executives, waiters, doctors, lawyers, and janitors who play cricket in New York City can only play Saturdays and Sundays. In the Bronx, leagues usually play Twenty20, a shortened version of the sport played in three hours. But even the reduced game time hasn’t averted scheduling issues, since the Bronx has lost seven official pitches in the last six years. 

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The Parade Ground at Van Cortlandt Park. © Syra Ortiz-Blanes

In 2013, the Department of Parks and Recreation injected $15 million to redesign the Parade Ground, a 66-acre swath of land used for cricket, soccer, baseball, football, cross-country, and Gaelic football at Van Cortlandt Park. The space was closed for three years until the construction was finished. 

Renovations were a significant improvement—the pitches were made regulation size and designated exclusively for the sport with no field overlapping with other sports—but two fields were lost. It left the Bronx with 18, still more than any other borough. Brooklyn and Queens trailed behind with 16 and 13 fields respectively.

But other sports have since cut into cricket real estate. Just last year, the Department of Parks and Recreation took away two more pitches at the Parade Grounds to create three small-sided soccer fields.

The Bronx now has nine fields in Van Cortlandt Park and two in Ferry Point Park, putting the official number of dedicated pitches at 11. There is also a cricket pitch at Soundview Park and a softball field that doubles as a cricket pitch, but NYC Parks doesn’t list the spaces for play on its website as of September 2019, although players said they are still using them.

Our pitches were designated solely for cricket. Now we have to share it with soccer, share it with frisbee, share it with athletics,” said Lewis, who is from Guyana. “If we can at least get one or two other pitches put out for us at any other ground in the Bronx, we will be thrilled. Cricket wants to get bigger, so we need bigger spaces.” 

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Ravi Etwaroo, owner of Cricket Zone USA, pictured here with cricket bats at his Parkchester-based store. © Syra Ortiz-Blanes

Ravi Etwaroo, a Guyanese immigrant, has been running Cricket Zone USA, the Bronx’s only cricket store, since 2003. His clientele, which he estimates to be around 3,000 players from across the city, keeps him in the loop. Many of his customers complain about the need for more fields. Some say they have to commute to other boroughs to play. “Some have even stopped playing because it’s too inconvenient to play when you have to spend a whole day commuting and you have a family waiting at home,” Etwaroo said.

Leagues, in particular, are affected by the lack of space, since they are in charge of scheduling matches amongst their club members. They must apply to NYC Parks for a permit to play at public facilities. 

In 2017, twenty-two permits were approved, none were denied, and fourteen were withdrawn. In 2019, twenty-seven were approved, 4 were denied, and four were withdrawn. These statistics don’t include the Soundview pitch. 

 “NYC Parks works hard to accommodate space and scheduling needs for all of our permit applicants,” said Anessa Hodgon, a press officer for the Department of Parks and Recreation. “Denied applications typically stem from lack of availability.”

But permit statistics don’t account for individuals, non-affiliated teams, and smaller leagues who might also want space to play but don’t apply because established teams are often grandfathered into the same time slots year after year. People without permits will often just hop into a field that isn’t in use. 

They also don’t reflect league sizes. Commonwealth Cricket League has around 2,000 players and roughly 150 teams across the city. “It’s the biggest cricket league in North America,” said President Lesley Lowe, who founded the league in 1980 with his father and brothers. 

Lowe, the most senior cricket administrator in the country, agreed that there is a need for more fields, but doesn’t where they would go. “I’ve grown up here and played at Van Cortlandt since I was fourteen. I’ve scoped out the Bronx for pitches, inch by inch. A cricket field is twice the size of a baseball diamond. Where can we put that?” 

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The lack of fields doesn’t only affect adult male teams, who dominate New York City’s cricket scene. It’s especially difficult for women to form teams and carry out regular practice meets since men’s teams have established tenure over many of the grounds.

Samantha Ramautar’s official portrait for USA Cricket. © USA Cricket

Samantha Ramautar, a member of the women’s USA national cricket team, said that the lack of field availability impacts New York’s female cricket players, who only get together once or twice to play during the summer. She trains in a New Jersey facility that is one and a half hours away.

“We don’t get as many opportunities as the guys do,” she said, “If there were more facilities, you’d find more women that wouldn’t feel intimidated playing with the guys, and we would have more leagues.” 

New York City is also the only city in the United States with cricket teams at public high schools. Three of the 34 participating schools are in the Bronx.“The public school cricket athletic league is the brainchild of the development of cricket in New York City,” said Milford Lewis, who has been an umpire since 1996 and often runs youth games. 

Lewis says that the youth teams serve as feeders for the cricket scene, but that can be difficult to sustain when they don’t have regular, dedicated space to play. “They have to start playing in April to make sure everyone has time to use the pitches. I’ve done games where the temperature was in the 50s. Their hands are cold, their feet are cold, their faces are cold.” 

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Bronx Community Board 9 Chairman William Rivera is working with NYC Parks to create the first cricket-dedicated pitch in his district at Pugsley and Randall Avenues. Rivera was inspired to pursue this initiative when he attended a cricket award ceremony at Parkchester’s Starling Avenue, which is a predominantly Bangladeshi area.“Children in my district grew up watching this sport in their birth countries, grew up watching their parents, and moved here later learning that this sport they love doesn’t have a real outlet for them to play,” he said. 

USA Cricket, which was re-organized by the International Cricket Council last year, is hoping to rehabilitate New York’s cricket infrastructure as it invests $1 billion in the sport across the country over the next ten years. Its ambitious plans include a cricket stadium for international play in New York City. The Bronx is on the list of potential locations because of its large green spaces and vibrant cricket scene. 

“If Bronx comes and says, we are ready to partner with you and we’ll give you a ten-acre park, we will help. Even if we forget about the stadium, even if they are looking to put a turf pitch, we are ready for that too,” said USA Cricket Club Director Ajith Baskar.  

The pitch above is covered with Astroturf, but has clay underneath instead of concrete. When it rains, there is inconsistent ball bounce and pitch variations. Having high-quality grass pitches is a priority for players in New York City.

“That would be heaven,” said Columbia Cricket Club Captain Lokendra Chauhan. © Syra Ortiz-Blanes

Rather than creating more playing spaces, some cricket players believe that enhancing the current pitches could make the usage of space more efficient. Implementing floodlights, for example, could double playtime by making nighttime cricket possible. Better upkeep of the facilities, such as keeping grass short and installing natural turf pitches, would help New York teams train to compete at an international level. In turn, raising the sport’s visibility could give clubs and leagues leverage as they advocate for more space. 

“If we have ambitions in New York to be delivering players that can step up at a high club and international level, the facilities here are inadequate at the moment to provide for that,” said Sumantro Das, a Columbia Cricket Club player from New Delhi.

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After winning its match against the Long Island Kings, the Columbia Cricket Club huddled together in a circle to debrief. Team officers gave a rousing speech to their players. They were proud of the work their team had done to secure the win. After the game, the players went for drinks to celebrate their victory.

This is what keeps bringing Das, who has been playing with his club for the last ten years, to the cricket pitches in the Bronx. He played professionally with the Birmingham League in England two summers ago and enjoys the competition and the thrill. But it’s the community aspect of it that he loves.

“This scene is vibrant. It’s exciting. The full breadth of diversity is incredible. It’s economic, it’s national, it’s community-wide, it’s international. It’s a beautiful picture.”

The Columbia Cricket Club storms the field after winning its match against the Long Island Kings on Sept 22. © Syra Ortiz-Blanes
A player from Columbia Cricket Club takes off his legs pad, used by batsmen and wicket keepers to protect their legs from the hard leather balls used in cricket. © Syra Ortiz-Blanes
The Columbia Cricket Club celebrates its victory against the Long Island Kings on Sept 22. © Syra Ortiz-Blanes


Posted in Bronx Neighborhoods, Featured, SportsComments (0)

Runners race around Yancey Field with Yankee Stadium in the background

Yankees strike out on promises

Runners race around Yancey Field with Yankee Stadium in the background

Yancey Field is a new track and soccer field built as a compromise to Bronx residents on top of one of the Yankee Stadium parking lots. (NIGEL CHIWAYA/Bronx Ink)

The parking was supposed to get better. That’s what New York Yankees president Randy Levine promised Bronx residents and city council members back in March 2006 when the team was negotiating for a new Yankee Stadium. By adding 3,000 parking spots, Levine said, Yankee fans would not need to cruise the streets looking for curbside parking spots. The result would be a less congested South Bronx.

Bronx residents don’t see it that way. According to them, things have actually gotten worse since the new stadium went up.

“It’s a nightmare,” said Joyce Hogi, who has lived on 165th Street and the Grand Concourse for over 30 years. “There are still people that are looking to park on the streets, but now the police block off 161st Street on game days. I have friends in Highbridge and it takes them two hours to get through.”

Decreased street congestion was just one of the four key promises the Yankees made in 2006. At that city council meeting Levine also pledged to create new public parks to replace those lost during stadium construction, to establish a benefits fund for Bronx non-profits, and to provide 1,000 permanent new jobs at the stadium.

But five years after the team broke ground on the new stadium, the parking garages sit half empty during game days, the benefits fund has come under fire for the way it manages the money, and no one is exactly sure how many Bronx residents work in the stadium.

While the city may have determined that the new Yankee Stadium was worth over $60 million to New Yorkers, those who live next door to it in the South Bronx believe is not nearly as valuable.

“All you have to do is look around to see that it wasn’t worth it,” said Ramon Jimenez, who runs the For the South Bronx Coalition, a community group that has been trying to pressure the Yankees into living up to their promises since 2009.  “The new Yankee Stadium has not added to the community.”

Requests to the Yankees organization and city council members Helen Foster, Joel Rivera and Maria Carmen del Arroyo for comment were denied. Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz did not return calls to the Bronx Ink.

Parking garages: The increase that nobody needed

“The same number of cars and buses already come to the stadium.  However, today, they just park all over the street, and all over the community… It causes disruption.  So we’re trying to fix it. By building the new parking spots, the cars will get out of the community.  Won’t circle around the community and disrupt it.  And will go into parking lots.”  -Randy Levine to New York City Council, March 28, 2006

As part of the stadium proposal, the Yankees asked the city and state to build about 3,000 new parking spaces. Critics balked at this request, citing the fact that 7,000 parking spaces already existed and the current stadium would seat almost 4,000 fewer fans. Additionally, the stadium is located along the busiest subway station in the Bronx and the MTA planned to build a Metro North station a few blocks away, providing car-free transportation for Yankees fans from upstate New York. Finally, even the best parking garages wouldn’t attract those that were determined to park for free on the street.

“Additional parking spots doesn’t necessarily mean the fans are going to elect to park in those garages,” said Councilmember Maria Arroyo at the 2006 meeting.  “And as long as there’s free community parking, they may opt to do that before they go into the garage.”

Nonetheless, the City Council approved the Stadium along with the new parking facilities in April 2006 and the city’s Economic Development financed the parking garages with $237 million in public bonds. Three new garages were built: one adjacent to the new stadium and two across 161Street behind the old stadium. The city selected Bronx Parking Development Corporation; a company located 121 miles north of the Bronx in Hudson, New York, to operate the garages.

Five years later, the critics have been proven correct. Though the Yankees have drawn more fans than any other team in baseball since the stadium opened, the garages have struggled to reach 60 percent capacity. In fact, city records show that the parking garages were only 45 percent full during September 2011, when Yankee closer Mariano Rivera recorded his baseball-record 602nd career save.

The anemic performance of the garages has caused Bronx Parking to repeatedly alter its financial projections. The company expects to bring in only $12 million in revenue from the garages in 2012, down from the $22.6 million it projected in September 2010.

On top of the empty garages, Bronx Parking must repay the public bonds issued in 2006 and must make two payments of $6.9 million to the city in April and October of each year. Facing a revenue shortfall, financial records show that the company has had to dip into its cash reserves to make the last three payments, withdrawing $2.3 million in October of 2011. With only $9.2 million remaining in its reserves and facing a projected deficit of $8.3 million, Bronx Parking will have little choice but to reach into its reserves once again next year. The company’s own financial projects show that it is on pace to exhaust those reserves by April 2013.

Too many options

The garages have struggled to compete with free parking offered at the nearby Gateway Center. Budget-conscious fans leery of paying the $35 fee to park at Yankee Stadium have instead opted to pay the Gateway Center’s $10 fee.

“People are trying to save money,” said Jimenez. “So you park in the mall and you walk three blocks to the stadium.”



View Yankee Stadium Parking in a larger map   Yankees fans have several options for traveling to and parking at Yankee Stadium. In the chart above, items in blue represent Yankee Stadium parking lots, items in red represent competing lots and items in green represent mass transit options.

And in direct contradiction to Levine’s promise, fans are still parking on the streets. “Seasoned fans that know they can find a spot on the street do that,” said Hogi. “It’s gotten so bad that we’ve tried to get a resident parking permit. The garages have not freed up the streets at all.”

Faced with an embarrassing default, the city has begun searching for exit strategies. In September, Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr. announced a plan to tear down one of the garages and replace it with a hotel. Diaz, who admitted that the parking lots face “severe financial problems” in his 2011 state of the borough address, believes that replacing garage 8­– the 1970’s-era garage that stood next to the old stadium­– with a 200-300 bed “world class hotel” would be a win-win for the Bronx and Bronx Parking.

“This development would serve as a new tourism hub for our borough, while creating hundreds of good jobs for Bronx residents and greatly enhancing the area surrounding Yankee Stadium,” said Diaz.

Community Board 4, which voted against the new Stadium in 2005, is on board with the new plan. And while William Casari, a librarian at Hostos Community College who sits on the board’s parks commission, would rather see the garage turned into parkland, a hotel is better than nothing.

“If it’s done correctly, sure; it’s better than a parking garage,” Casari said. “But it’d have to be a Marriott or something. Not some government-assisted thing.”

Public Parks: The long wait to play

“There will be baseball and softball fields on the site of the original stadium, where Bronx and City kids will play on the same hallowed ground that Yankee greats from Ruth to Gehrig, to DeMaggio to Mantle, to Berra, to Jackson, to Rivera and Jeter have played. The new park will have a new running track, a new soccer field, new baseball and softball fields, new basketball courts, new handball courts, and new tennis facilities.”
                                                       -Randy Levine to New York City Council, March 28, 2006

Yancey Field is a racetrack and soccer field that sits across the street from the new Yankee Stadium. Every morning, even before she has her breakfast, Hadiyah Colbert runs laps around the track. Colbert, originally from Yonkers, is quite fond of the track.

“This one is cleaner,” said Colbert, who moved to the Bronx seven years ago.  There used to be garbage in the old one.”

The track that Colbert runs on is part of a grand compromise that the parks department and the Yankees made with Bronx residents. The new Yankee stadium was built on top of Macomb’s Dam and Mullaly parks. To replace the destroyed parkland, the parks department spent $195 million rebuilding Macomb’s Dam Park across the street from the stadium. Yancey Field–part of the new park–sits on top of one of the stadium’s parking garages.

It didn’t come easily. Originally scheduled to open in 2009, Yancey field didn’t open until 2010, which meant that Bronx residents went four years without a track. Colbert made do by running around the remainder of Mullaly Park, but added that she would have preferred the old park.

“They didn’t need to build a new stadium,” Colbert said. “I think the money could have been put to better use.”

Baseball players have had to wait even longer. The area lost its only regulation baseball field when Macomb’s Dam Park was paved over. The parks department promised to replace it when Heritage Field–a complex of three ball fields built in the footprint of the old stadium–by 2010, but delays in the demolition of the old Yankee Stadium pushed the park’s opening date back to fall 2011. The park opened for one day in late November, when Little Leagues competed on the field. The park was then shuttered for the winter the next day. Casari said that he has noticed parks officers shooing residents away.

“Two guys with big bags for baseball bats were headed toward the field,” Casari said, “and the officers took them off the field.”

When they finally open to the public, the ball fields will require a permit to play on. While it children under 18 will be able to obtain a permit for free, adults will have to pay, which Jimenez said makes them less attractive to the community.

“The old parks were open,” Jimenez said. “This just doesn’t replace the old parks.”

Community Benefits Fund: money with no oversight

“As part of the benefits agreement that we’re negotiating, we’re talking about putting a very sizeable amount of money  — I’ll give you a ballpark right now, about $700,000 a year, which, for each of 40 years, which will go to a committee… There will be a grant apparatus set up.  That everybody in the community will come, make an application, and the people in the area, in the community, will decide which is appropriate, which is prioritized, and which is not.  -Randy Levine to New York City Council, March 28, 2006

If the parking situation irritates Hogi, the Community Benefits Fund makes her seethe. To Hogi, the fund is another example of the lack of input given to the people of the Bronx.

“Nobody knows how much money is in there and how it’s handed out,” Hogi said. “It’s demoralizing to the community to be so left out of the loop.”

Despite its name, the Yankee Stadium Community Benefits Fund operates independently of the community and the Yankees. Created in 2006 as part of an agreement between the team and four Bronx politicians, the fund is a non-profit organization that handles $800,000 worth of grants provided annually by the Yankees. The fund has been a magnet for contention since its inception. While the Yankees said they began donating money annually in 2006, the fund’s committee wasn’t established until 2008.

According to the fund’s 2008 and 2009 tax documents, it has distributed over $1.6 million to several Bronx non-profit organizations. Records show that the Highbridge Community Life Center and the Highbridge Voices children choir received grants of $20,000 and $7,500, respectively, in 2009.  However, groups outside of the community, like the Manhattan-based New York Road Runners club, which received a grant of $16,250 in 2009, also have access to the money.

“That money was supposed to benefit the people in the South Bronx,” said Jimenez. “It’s supposed to be for those who had to deal with the disruption the stadium caused. How does that money go to Throgs Neck and Riverdale?”

The fund came under further fire in September, when the New York Post reported that several groups without non-profit status were receiving grants. The groups in question include El Maestro, a Foxhurst boxing gym that was for-profit when it received $5,100 of sports equipment in 2009, and Flo-bert Ltd., a Manhattan tap-dance troupe that last filled out tax forms in 2007 yet still received $2,000 in 2009. Flo-bert’s non-profit status was revoked in 2010.

Serafin Mariel, the fund’s president and the former chief executive of National Bank, refused to comment or provide copies of the fund’s annual reports to the Bronx Ink. “I’m sorry, I don’t speak to reporters,” Mariel said.

Jobs: the unproven investment

“This new stadium will create thousands of construction jobs, and at a minimum, as President of the Yankees, I’m telling you 1,000 new, permanent additional to what we have, new permanent jobs at the new stadium. And they will be good jobs… A commitment by the Yankees to significant Bronx employment.”
                                                   – Randy Levine to the New York City Council, March 28, 2006

In the same agreement that created the fund, the Yankees also promised that 25 percent of all new jobs created at the new Yankee stadium would be reserved for locals. It is difficult to verify whether this promise has been fulfilled, however, because the Yankees have not provided figures.

Even so, Levine’s promise of 1,000 permanent jobs rings hollow. A 2009 report by former New York State Assemblyman Richard Brodsky revealed that the Yankees reported to the city’s Industrial Agency that they intended to add only 15 full-time jobs in 2009. And while the Yankees disclosed in a 2008 application for public funding that they would add 1,100 contract jobs, the majority of those jobs were in concessions.

If Bronx residents are outraged by the lack of transparency, they are powerless to combat it. Only five people signed the community benefits agreement: Levine, former Borough President Adolfo Carrion, and council members Arroyo, Maria Baez, and Joel Rivera. Only the politicians that signed the document have the legal standing to enforce its terms, and both Carrion and Baez are out of office.

This lack of community input has caused the community benefits agreement to be widely criticized as a sham that was thrown together to help the Yankees get their stadium.

“I’d give an ‘F’ to whoever drew up that benefits agreement,” said Jimenez, “if I thought they were drawing it up in the interests of the community.”

Bettina Damiani, Project Director at Good Jobs New York, a watchdog group that tracks government subsidies, summarized the community’s legal woes by saying: “there is no CBA – not a real one anyway – at Yankee Stadium.”

Unhappy anniversary

For Hogi, the anniversary of the groundbreaking is not one she cares to mark. In fact, these days she does her best to avoid the stadium altogether.

“If I have to be out driving on the game day I go all the way east and come around,” Hogi said. Part of her reason for staying away is to avoid the traffic, but part of it is to escape the irritating feeling of being right.

“Those of us that were really fighting the intrusion,” Hogi said. “Everything that we said would happen, has happened.”

Posted in Bronx Neighborhoods, Featured, Southern Bronx, SportsComments (1)

Van Cortlandt Parade Grounds reopening delayed a year, NY Daily News

Van Cortlandt’s eight cricket fields won’t reopen until next fall because the renovated Parade Grounds contain weeds and crab grass, New York Daily News reports.

The renovations began in 2009 and the fields were slated to open last spring. But the Parks Department contractor has botched the job twice.

The cricket fields will remain closed for a third straight spring season.

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