By Ray O’Hanlon and Harry Keaney
Gaelic Park will remain off-track to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority — at least for the next decade or so.
The historic Bronx GAA facility will not be targeted for expansion by the MTA, which owns the park and the adjoining subway yard.
Fears had been mounting that the MTA would assert its control over the four-acre sports and community facility by ending the lease held by Manhattan College.
The GAA sublets the playing field from the college and would have found itself out in the cold had the MTA made such a move.
But the MTA will be looking elsewhere after Gov. George Pataki intervened on behalf of those who wanted to see Gaelic Park’s future preserved.
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And while Gaelic Park has received a reprieve, another New York site for Gaelic games, Paddy’s Field, home of the St. Barnabas club, is in line for major renovations. As part of the final stage of a three-part renovation of athletic facilities in the area, Paddy’s Field will undergo a $614,000 facelift. The work includes new turf, an improved drainage system and steel bleachers, new chain-link fencing, asphalt paving and concrete steps.
"Work is already under way," Councilwoman June Eisland told the Echo Tuesday afternoon. "We’re committed the money and we hope to have a special ceremony in the next couple of weeks."
Eisland, who has worked closely with the city’s parks commissioner, Henry Stern, and Bronx parks commissioner William Castro on the project, said the expected completed by the end of December.
She added that she had also been able to undertake renovations to nearby Sean Healy Field and tennis courts.
Pataki announced last week that the MTA would not be requiring Gaelic Park for the "foreseeable future." In this case, "foreseeable" would appear to match the remaining term of the current Manhattan College lease. It does not expire until 2011.
"Gaelic Park is going to be preserved. It’s not just a place for games but is also a cultural center for the Irish community in New York and will be for a long time to come," Pataki told the Echo in a phone interview last Friday.
He further outlined his vision for Gaelic Park the following day during an interview broadcast on the "Adrian Flannelly Radio Show."
Pataki told the Echo that a report in the Echo last August had alerted his office and that of State Senator Guy Velella to the fact that Gaelic Park was facing the possibility of extinction.
Velella, in a statement issued Friday, said that a plan by the MTA to use Gaelic Park as part of the expansion of the 240th Street maintenance shop had now been abandoned.
"I’m delighted that the MTA has concluded that Gaelic Park is safe from the expansion plans of New York City Transit," Velella said.
Pataki said that he and Velella got in touch with the MTA and after discussions the authority had concluded that it could expand its facility without touching Gaelic Park.
"There’s history, tradition and cultural links between New York City and Gaelic Park. It’s vitally important that we preserve these cultural ties," Pataki said. "The looming cloud over Gaelic Park is gone. Hurling and Irish football will remain for years to come."
Pataki said that he envisioned Gaelic Park continuing in its current role until 2011 "or as long as I’m around."
A source close to the deliberations between Pataki and the MTA said that the governor had made it clear to the authority that he wanted Gaelic Park spared from the MTA’s expansion plan.
"No doubt about it, the governor flexed some political muscle on this one," the source said.
Gaelic Park is leased by the MTA to Manhattan College for use as an athletic field. Manhattan College in turn leases it to the GAA, which in recent years has expressed interest in moving out of the facility regardless of the city’s intentions.
Manhattan College President Brother Thomas Scanlon said that he was "very pleased" by last weekend’s news. However, he added, "I don’t think it’s everything we wanted because we were looking ultimately for a permanent solution."
GAA officials were unavailable for comment.