Editorial comment

Ice transparent, rink not


You’d have to be a real sour puss to oppose an ice-skating for Van Cortlandt Park.

Who wouldn’t want to see Bronx children’s colorful scarves waving in the wind as they round corners and return to parents keeping their cocoa warm? Who wouldn’t want nearby businesses to benefit from a borough-wide venue in their vicinity?

It would have been easy to characterize anyone who objected to the idea of a winter wonderland in Vannie as the world’s biggest Grinch — hater of all things fun and a general misanthrope — if only those who conceived of the rink had been more transparent.

Tony Cassino — a loser to Oliver Koppell in the 2009 City Council race — who chairs the board of the Van Cortlandt Park Conservancy, said the conservancy started meeting with the City to discuss a rink for Van Cortlandt Park a year ago.

They came up with a plan — announced by the mayor during his January State of the City address — for a rink, which a concessionaire will pay for, to be completed by November 2011.

During its months of operation, it will usurp space on some of the park’s defunct tennis courts, but also on a few very popular handball courts, which are well-used year-round.

After that, the details get a little foggy. How it will be built, operated and maintained, whether parking will be provided, how much skating will cost, are all questions for which Community Board 8 is waiting to have answered. But the project, unlike the rink in Bryant Park it is modeled after, does not require board approval.

That is why the Board learned of the Conservancy’s plans the way most of us did — when the mayor announced it during his speech early this year. Even members of the Friends of Van Cortlandt Park, which has been working to raise funds to support Vannie for decades, were left in the dark.

Public/private partnerships are nothing new to the City’s parks — Bryant Park and Central Park conservancies are examples that come to mind — and they are also not new to Vannie (the golf course is run by concessionaires and so are the stables). But the way this project has been approached has given some the notion that it is more about serving the needs of the conservancy than would-be Hans Brinkers.

And it is arguable whether the project, commendable in a bubble, constitutes the best use of the conservancy’s fund raising. Rumor has it that the Parade Ground, which sits beside the soon-to-be-rink, lack funding for ongoing maintenance even after a multi-million dollar renovation.

When the remaining fences come down around the section of the park that is home to baseball, soccer and cricket areas this spring, will there be money in the City’s coffers to keep it going?

The City may not be footing the bill for the rink, but the community will have to live with it and should be given a greater say in how it is handled. Mr. Cassino says that having a skating rink is one way to get people interested in investing in the park through the conservancy, which will allow it to fund other projects — presumably ones that won’t cost park goers a dime.

If that’s his goal, good. If it’s a way of inspiring people to invest in his next bid for office, gross.

He claims his motives are pure. But it doesn’t really matter. Either way, neither goal will be met if community members who live near the rink can’t afford it, don’t like it, blame it for traffic congestion or parking problems, or feel that it is taking away parts of the park that are important to them.

The Van Cortlandt Park Conservancy is already taking credit for what may or may not be a very nice addition to the neighborhood. It’s members should also be aware that they will get the blame if the concessionaire chosen by the Parks Department lets us down without ever asking us what we want.