By Peter Nolan
The New York Gaelic Athletic Association’s dream of a new home to call its own remains alive despite the recent criminal indictment of its patron, State Senator Guy Velella.
A source involved in the ongoing negotiations insists that despite the trouble Velella now finds himself in, the project will go ahead as planned.
NYGAA President Monty Maloney said recently that he expects “to be signing papers in August” that will deliver the Randalls Island property into NYGAA control, although September now seems more likely. Jane Rudolf, spokesperson for Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe, cautioned that a Request for Proposal has yet to be filed and until it is, nothing can be assumed.
Because of Velalla’s longstanding relationship with both the Irish community and Gov. Pataki (Velella is one of the few state Republican leaders from New York City), he is seen as a key player in the NYGAA’s bid. Indeed, he has championed the GAA’s efforts. But, along with his father, Vincent Velella, and three others, he is currently under indictment on charges that the accepted payments from contractors in order to secure state contracts for those contractors.
The NYGAA’s proposal, if accepted, would give the association primary control over the eight-plus acres of Randalls Island Park land in the first phase. By comparison, Gaelic Park in the Bronx, which has been the GAA’s home for decades, is approximately five acres.
Sign up to The Irish Echo Newsletter
The cost of developing that first phase, which is estimated at $20 million, would be the responsibility of the NYGAA. Although a hefty sum for an organization not known for deep pockets, the NYGAA’s public relations officer, John Moore, believes that the association will get help from several sources.
“Once we prove we are serious and get the fund-raising off the ground, the money will come in,” he said.
Moore cites the highly successful Irish golf club at Union Vale upstate as an example of how things can be done.
“The IGC had a great business plan and a very professional marketing strategy to attract investors,” Moore said.
Specifically, the IGC sold shares at $5,000 each, and in that manner were able to raise $6 million. The NYGAA, Moore revealed, plans on selling 6,000 shares at $1,000 a piece, raising $6 million.
None of this will get under way until the documents are signed, likely sometime in September. The NYGAA are currently preparing their RFP, which Moore points out must be for a Gaelic sports ground.
In the first phase, the project calls for a playing field that Moore says “will be bigger than most of the pitches in Ireland.” Also included will be a playground and a 20,000-square-foot community center. The community center is a key component of the plan and Moore speaks enthusiastically of catering events for up to 1,500 people in what he calls “a seven-day operation.”
“Our first allegiance is to the GAA, and will always be to the GAA,” Moore said. “But the market for this community center can be much bigger than just the association.”
Along with admission at the gate, the community center would be an important source of revenue for the organization. The NYGAA will also be required to provide concessions and bathroom facilities for the non-GAA park goers. Catering to the community is an important aspect to the overall plan.
Although details have yet to be ironed out, the playing field will likely be made available to New York City schoolchildren in some fashion. Moore envisions introducing Gaelic games into the school curriculum and points out that the San Francisco and Ottawa, Canada, school systems learn Gaelic football as part of their physical education program.
Of course, this is all contingent on the association’s ability to raise money — and lots of it. The belief within the association is that after shares sell, grants will be easier to obtain. It is hoped that funding would be made available from the city, state, and perhaps the Irish government and the Irish GAA.
Still the impetus must come from what Moore calls, “the GAA rank and file.” “That’s why we won’t charge $5,000 a share, like the golf club,” he said. More of the rank and file can get involved at that price, Moore believes.
It will be the association’s challenge to excite that rank and file about the Randalls Island project. In Moore’s opinion, the GAA is 60 percent pessimists, 25 percent optimists, with the rest undecided. More than a few, he contends, are happy enough with Gaelic Park, but the forces behind the Randalls Island project believe it is essential for the progress of the association.
“We have to convert the naysayers.” Moore said, “but they’ve done it in Chicago and Boston and we have a much larger base than they do.”
A central goal of the project is to better provide for the needs of the minor board, the juniors and the Ladies GAA. Right now almost all of the women’s games, minor games, and most of the junior matches are played at public parks, like Van Cortlandt Park and Paddy’s Field in the Bronx. The association’s plan is to maintain a presence at Gaelic Park even after the Randalls Island facility is built.
A lot of hard work remains, and although things appear to be progressing, nothing has been finalized. Wednesday, July 24, is an important day for the project, as representatives of the governor’s office will be given a tour of the site. The governor’s support is obviously key and his acknowledged pride in his Irish roots might be the NYGAA’s ace in the hole.