2007-04-26 / Top Stories

Group Renews Proposal For Grand Prix At Gateway

Logo for proposed 2008 grand prix event at Floyd Bennett Field.                        ©NAME, Inc.
Logo for proposed 2008 grand prix event at Floyd Bennett Field. ©NAME, Inc. By Neil S. Friedman

Nearly a year after more than a dozen Gateway National Recreation Area officials rejected a plan to bring Grand Prix-style racing to Floyd Bennett Field, the group behind the proposed annual event presented a revised request at this month's Community Board 18 meeting.

The event has the support of State Senator Carl Kruger who championed the idea a year ago, and the borough's head cheerleader, Borough President Marty Markowitz, but it has previously drawn mixed backing from area residents, as well as opposition from Congressman Anthony Weiner, whose district encompasses the national park in which the event would be held.

With the cooperation of Paul Newman, the actor/philanthropist who is a racing car enthusiast, North American Motorsport Events (NAME) Inc, claims "it has been Newman's dream to bring his passions of charity, New York and motor sports together…" in its April 18 report obtained by the Courier.

NAME cites Floyd Bennett's "8 miles of vacant runways" as conducive to an event held every September - beginning in 2008 - that they call the New York Memorial Grand Prix (NYMPG), an annual temporary three-day event that they project would bring in estimated revenues between $40-$60 million to Brooklyn and the city. All proceeds would go towards another Newman endeavor, the New York Urban Hole in the Wall Gang for Children, and some Brooklyn charities.

The planned event, over a 3.5-mile temporary racetrack oval, would be preceded by a festival of fundraising and charity events, including a special driver education program for youth, leading up to the weekend's race. Newman has proposed converting old military barracks at Floyd Bennett into an office for his Hole In the Wall Camp for children with terminal illnesses.

The seven-page report outlines every aspect of the event from amenities, including extensive parking, to public transportation availability and thousands of parking spaces, and asserts it would bring "international attention to the nation's largest urban national park, as well as to Brooklyn and New York City…and will feature high tech cars of the American Le Mans and Champ Car World series."

Geoff Whaling, the CEO for NAME, told the Courier this week that the revised plan has been submitted to the Department of Interior and presented to Community Board 18 District Manager Dorothy Turano, who, he said, "overwhelmingly" expressed her support for the proposal in a letter she sent him.

Whaling said after getting information on the plan out to the community, he is getting positive feedback and hopes that will convince Gateway officials to reverse last year's denial.

Last spring, in a letter to the event's Pennsylvania-based promoters, Gateway superintendent Barry Sullivan wrote that the 10-day "Festival of Speed" was "not appropriate...in a national park" because it breaches park policy and is "not compatible with the purposes for which the park was established."

A spokesperson said the racing event was estimated to attract more than 60,000 visitors a day while Gateway's policy is for crowds not to exceed 10,000 people per day.

Most of Floyd Bennett Field's 1,100 acres have been part of the protected Gateway National Recreation Area natural wildlife preserve since 1972. It is home to a variety of bird and animal species, which environmentalists say would be impacted by noisy car racing. Campers, hikers and bicyclists may also use the site.

When the idea was proposed in 2006, Weiner said, "We welcome smart recreation ideas for Gateway. But this proposal was neither smart nor recreation. The National Parks Service was right to reject it."

An anonymous source said, "Nothing has changed" since last year. "A Grand Prix-type event at Gateway is inconsistent with the variety of intended uses for a national park," the source added.

It was also pointed out that before the grand prix plan is sanctioned, a two-year environmental impact study would have to be conducted by the National Park Service, which currently has no funds budgeted for that type of outlay.

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