By Julie Shapiro
BATTERY PARK CITY — Next winter, would lower Manhattan residents perfer to go ice-skating or play soccer and touch football?
That’s the question facing a group of Community Board 1 members, who met this week to begin a debate over the future of the Battery Park City ball fields.
In the past, there were few options for the grass fields, which were closed all winter because they turned into frozen mud puddles.
But this summer, the Battery Park City Authority is blanketing the fields in artificial turf, enabling local sports leagues and after-school programs to use them year-round for the first time.
Many residents, though, would rather see an ice rink on the fields instead. People were disappointed this year when the popular 2009-2010 rink did not return, because the authority couldn’t find an operator in time.
"The ideal would be to have the best of both worlds: both the rink and half the field," said Jeff Galloway, chairman of CB1’s Battery Park City Ballfields Task Force, at a meeting Thursday night.
But no one knows if there is enough room on the ballfields for both uses. Stephanie Gelb, vice president of planning and design at the authority, said the community will likely have to choose.
"My gut is that it’s either-or," Gelb told the residents at Thursday night’s meeting. "You should ponder what is more important."
In addition to having room for the rink, the skating operator also needs space to rent skates and run a concession, which will likely take up more than half the field, Gelb said.
The ballfields are also a difficult place for a rink because of the time constraints: The rink wouldn’t be able to go up until soccer season ends just before Thanksgiving, and it would have to come down in time for baseball season to start March 1.
Mark Costello, a CB1 member and a director of Downtown Little League, said the community needs to find a new place for the rink.
"Having it at the ballfields creates conflicts," Costello said.
Other possible locations include the field at West Thames Park, the field on Pier 25, the plaza by North Cove Marina and a barge floating on the Hudson River, though all of those options require permission from other agencies.
The biggest constraint is that the rink is not subsidized — the Battery Park City Authority has to find an operator who would be able to make money in whichever location the community picks.
Rink Management Services, the company that ran the ice rink in 2010, backed out after just one year because they were unable to turn a profit.
CB1 and the authority hope to decide on a location for the rink next month so the authority can issue a request for proposals in April.
Authority President Gayle Horwitz promised to continue working with the community on a solution.
"Maybe we can figure out how to get something for everybody," she said.