By Leslie Albrecht
UPPER WEST SIDE — A set of pristine ball fields that were built for public use on the Upper West Side are sitting behind a locked gate — and only the residents of nearby upscale apartment buildings are allowed to use them.
The brand new soccer, baseball and volleyball fields are wedged between the West Side Highway and Riverside Boulevard from West 66th to West 64th Street. The fields sit in front of Riverside South, a string of luxury high-rise buildings where apartments sell for as much as $15 million.
The ball fields are supposed to belong to Riverside Park South, the 27-acre public park that developer Extell Development Co. is responsible for building in exchange for the rights to build the high-rises.
But an eight-foot chain link fence now surrounds the fields and a guard patrols the area to keep people out unless they're residents of Riverside South, several locals told DNAinfo.
Parks Department official John Herrold, who oversees all of Riverside Park, said the ball fields are Extell's private property, and they'll eventually be handed over to the city to become part of the public park.
But for now, Extell is free to keep them locked up, Herrold said at a recent Community Board 7 meeting.
Activist Batya Lewton of the Coalition for a Livable West Side says the fenced off fields are evidence of a broken promise by Extell.
Creating the public park space was a key condition that developers agreed to meet when they won approval from the city to build Riverside South, Lewton said. The original developer on the project in 1992 was Donald Trump; it changed hands to Extell in 2005.
"When you realize that the developer made an awful lot of money on this development, and that they were supposed to build this world-class park and here you have these fields that can't be used by the public, that's outrageous," Lewton said.
Lewton said she was incensed when Extell president Gary Barnett recently mentioned the fields and Riverside Park South at a City Council hearing about Riverside Center, the five-tower development that Extell wants to build as the final piece of Riverside South.
Barnett pointed to the fields and public park as a key neighborhood amenity, Lewton said.
"(He) bragged about the fact that they had built these fields, but never mentioned that they're not public," Lewton said.
Extell also did not respond to repeated requests for comment from DNAinfo.
Ralph Corsiglia, a local baseball coach, said he was eagerly looking forward to using the fields once they were completed this fall. When workers were sodding the fields in August they let him and his son practice there. But once the Little League-size baseball diamond was finished, the gate was locked and a guard told him it was off limits, Corsiglia said.
Corsiglia said he called Riverside South and was told he could pay to rent the field for $20 an hour, with a two-hour minimum, but only if he or someone with him was a resident of Riverside South.
DNAinfo got the same answer from a Riverside South representative.
Corsiglia doesn't live at Riverside South, so he's out of luck.
"It's such an unfortunate thing to have a beautiful field you can't use," Corsiglia said last week as he stood near the empty, fenced-in outfield.
"I grew up in New York and finding a grass field to play on was such a treat," Corsiglia said. "Now there's one right in front of our eyes and we can't use it. It just sits here like it's a museum."