By Patrick Markey
Bronx community leaders are rallying around Gaelic Park, hoping to salvage the historic Irish cultural landmark from the planners hoping to make room for an expansion of the city’s subway system.
After the Echo reported two weeks ago that Gaelic Park may be threatened by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s subway expansion review, Bronx Borough President Fernando Ferrer fired off letters asking state officials to help protect the famous playing fields.
"Few sites in New York City hold such historical significance and sentimental value for the Irish community," Ferrer said in a statement.
The Bronx leader has written to the New York Governor George Pataki, the MTA, the New York State Parks Commissioner and the city Landmarks Preservation Commission urging their support. Ferrer hopes to include the historic site in the State and National Registers of Historic Places.
Ferrer has asked his Bronx Landmarks Task Force to prepare an application to have the park included in the register.
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"I urge you to consider alternative options as I would oppose a proposal to close this historically significant site," Ferrer wrote in a letter to the MTA.
"It would be irresponsibly short-sighted to sacrifice a valued historic resource rather than seek alternate means that might more suitably meet the needs of the Transit Authority," the letter continues.
The controversy surfaced after the MTA informed Manhattan College that the Gaelic Park ground was among the sites under review to help relieve burgeoning subway ridership.
Manhattan College leases the grounds from the MTA for its soccer and lacrosse teams and the college sublets to the Gaelic Athletic Association, which plays both football and hurling league games there.
The MTA has no concrete plans for the site, but any expansion of the repair shop and storage track to the immediate north of Gaelic Park could mean the end of Irish games there.
Manhattan College officials have been approached by the MTA, which said the agency had made a tentative proposal to expand the repair shop and storage area at Gaelic Park to ease pressure on the Nos. 1 and 9 subway lines, which terminate at 242nd Street and Broadway.
The 20-year lease between the MTA and Manhattan College ends in 2011. But the lease includes a cancellation clause that would allow the agency to reclaim Gaelic Park within a reasonable time frame.
State agencies are still examining the issue.
"We have received the letter and we are reviewing it," said Tom Kelly, an MTA spokesman.
Built in 1928 Gaelic Park was once the heart of New York’s Irish community and home to the area’s Gaelic sports league. Generations of immigrants have socialized and cheered on their teams at the fields. Despite falling attendance at weekly games, the park has recently enjoyed a surge in popularity.