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Teens Fight Proposal To Cut Basketball Court From Hell's Kitchen Park

By Mathew Katz | July 27, 2012 8:33am

HELL'S KITCHEN — They just want a court of their own.

A group of teenagers in Hells Kitchen were shocked to discover that members of Community Board 4 planned to ask the Parks Department to eliminate a beloved basketball court in an upcoming redesign of Ramon Aponte Park on West 47th Street between Eighth and Ninth Avenues.

After the department presented a plan for a much-needed redesign, the board drafted a letter lauded most of it, but asked for the elimination of the full court that often sees pick-up games between local kids.

"Neighborhood residents and park users say that this basketball court, due to it location at the rear of the property and surrounded by buildings, is not used as much for basketball as it is for threatening, unsavory and even illegal activities (i.e., drug dealing)," the draft letter alleged.

"The prevailing preference from the community and MCB4 is for another use entirely (i.e. no basketball court) or, at the least, a half court with another use on the remaining area."

The move came as a surprise to Gene Rodriguez and his sister, Xiomara, who both live on West 48th Street and grew up playing ball on the court. Both scrambled to get to Wednesday's CB4 meeting to plead their case that the court provides local kids with a safe place to go and stay out of trouble.

"I myself played basketball growing up and it kept me out of trouble," said Rodriguez, who admitted that he had never been to a community board meeting before.

Rodriguez added that he only heard of the court-nixing plan days before the meeting, but planned to circulate a petition to save it.

Still, his testimony did not convince some members of the board, who said the park is a hotspot for fights and that there are many other courts nearby for kids to use.

"There is a major problem with this particular location just because it's in the block. I've had to call 911 on numerous occasions," said board member Larry Roberts, who lives near the park.

"It's inside the block, so they've got people looking out to Eighth Avenue and Ninth Avenue to see if cops are coming or not."

The letter went on, asking the Parks Department to replace the court with either an expanded playground area for kids, or an amenity for seniors such as chess or dominos table, or even a space for shuffleboard or bocce ball.

Those proposals prompted board member Burt Lazarin to accuse other board members of purposefully excluding teens.

"The design here, as proposed, clearly is meant to exclude adolescents. They want elderly people and they want little toddlers with their parents," he said.

"The community, in this case, is just those who are organized: the parents, and maybe some of the elderly people, but the kids, the adolescents who use the basketball courts, there's no outreach to them."

The park was a hotbed of teens on Thursday, many of whom were waiting out the rain to get a basketball game started.

Timothy Colon, 18, said the park provides a place for him and his fellow High School of Graphic Communications Arts students to spend time and shoot hoops.

"I come here every day, even in the summertime, " said Colon, who lives in Harlem.

"We're high school students. Fights break out in any park near a high school.

Colon admitted that there are other courts in the area, but many of them had uneven surfaces, making it hard to play.

Eddie M., who works at the Port Authority Bus Terminal and often enjoys his lunches in the park said the move to cut the court is at its best, poor planning, and at it's worst, racist.

"To me, anything that's black or Hispanic related in this neighborhood, they're trying to eliminate," he said.

"No one ever uses the park's fountain, but the court is always full."

The board eventually voted to send the letter to the Parks Department, but made sure to ask it to return with updated designs at the board's Sept. 13 Waterfront, Parks & Environment Committee so that Rodriguez and other teens that use the court could have their say on any potential redesigns.

The Parks Department did immediately not respond to requests for comment.