Some question Gaelic club’s use of park 1

Kids playing Gaelic football at Frank Golden Park in College Point. Some in the area are concerned that an agreement between the Shannon Gaels Gaelic Athletic Association and the Parks Department regarding the field’s usage does not give the community the access it deserves, a charge that the club firmly denies.

College Point activist James Cervino is concerned about Frank Golden Park. Specifically, he worries about the Shannon Gaels Gaelic Athletic Association’s maintenance and operation license agreement with the city for around half of the green space and what it means for community access of the park.

“It’s basically a deal that is made for the benefit of the Gaelic football community,” he told the Chronicle. Cervino added that while he is glad that Shannon Gaels is playing at and investing in the park, he does not want others in the community to lose access.

Frank Golden Park is the main home of the Queens youth athletic club, which has been using it since 2009. The group has around 600 members, with approximately 300 children.

Recently, work on a $1.6 million new field — completely using private funds raised by the athletic association — was finished there. According to Shannon Gaels Chairman Robert McDonagh, the fence that now surrounds the newly finished field is only closed temporarily to protect the new grass. Although the fence will be open during the day, it’s planned to be closed permanently at night when the park is closed.

Now, the Parks Department is seeking Community Board 7’s approval for the design of a second Gaelic football field to be operated by the club right next to the newly completed one in the park. That field, which McDonagh expects to take around 18 months to finish, is paid for by $4.53 million from the City Council and Borough President Melinda Katz.

The agreement allows Shannon Gaels to operate and maintain the section of the green space between March 1 and Oct. 31 of each year. It was written in 2014 and covers a 15-year-period, after which the Parks Department can renew it for five-year terms.

According to the document, the club is required to allow an average of 10 hours on the park’s fields each weekend for it to be used by “other groups,” which are also entitled to one full weekday evening per week. And the deal mandates that school athletic programs be guaranteed a minimum of one late afternoon session per week. Other groups must get a permit to use the space.

“The ratio of hours compared to the regular taxpaying community members is an imbalance,” Cervino said.

College Point Civic Association President Joe Femenia has a similar perspective. “[Shannon Gaels] has, basically, first dibs on the park,” he said. “I don’t agree with that.”

A Parks Department spokeswoman told the Chronicle that the agency is aware of the worries about access to the park’s fields and is planning to meet with Community Board 7 to discuss it next month.

NYC Park Advocates President Geoffrey Croft also has concerns about the situation. A big fan of the sport, he said that he has a lot of respect for Shannon Gaels.

“What’s really sad is that the Gaelic league clearly needs field space like other groups do,” he said. “But if they want something for their own use ... they obviously need to lease or buy private land.”

He says that the agreement between the club and the city may not be legal, pointing to a case involving some private schools’ usage of Randall’s Island.

Through a concession agreement, the Bloomberg administration was going to give 20 schools primary access to public fields on the island for $45 million. But a judge in 2008 struck it down. And then another, in 2009, after City Hall changed the arrangement, struck down the newer deal, saying that the previous administration did not get input from area stakeholders and disregarded the necessary land review process, according to The New York Times.

Croft added that the city may have deceived Shannon Gaels about the project being legal. “The GAA is a very important youth organization and they shouldn’t have been mislead,” he said.

The NYC Park Advocates president did not rule out the possibility of a lawsuit about the situation. But he added that “We obviously hope it doesn’t come to that.”

Responding to Croft’s comparison of the Randall’s Island and Frank Golden Park, the Parks Department said that it does not consider the arrangement with Shannon Gaels to be a concession agreement.

Michael McCutchen, founder and former president of Whitepoint Youth Football and Cheer — a group that kids in Whitestone and College Point play in — is not a fan of the arrangement for the green space.

“I find it discriminating and don’t get me wrong, I feel what they’re doing is great,” he said. “But you can’t close the door in our community’s face.”

However, McCutchen added, he did not know of any group that ever wanted to use the park but could not because of Shannon Gaels’ deal with the city.

Since its 2002 founding, Shannon Gaels has never had a home like Frank Golden Park. The club used to play in Sunnyside Gardens, McDonagh said, and the city helped it find a new field as it grew bigger.

The organization’s chairman added that while the fields have been offered for other sports groups to use, the club has never been taken up on its offer.

“On the other side of the park, the other side of the basketball court, we have never seen anybody use that field ever,” McDonagh said, adding that he has also never seen the green space’s baseball diamonds being used.

Shannon Gaels, he added, is doing outreach to the community surrounding Frank Golden Park to get “more of the local people in College Point” to play Gaelic football with the club.

In response to Croft’s remarks, the chairman said that the club is volunteer-run and has “nothing to hide.”

“We’re not here to stop anybody from using the park,” McDonagh said. “We’re here because we want to get kids from the community playing sports.”

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