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Thread: Big Golf Dreams in the Bronx

  1. #1

    Default Big Golf Dreams in the Bronx

    NY Times...

    Big Dreams


    J. Pierre Gagne is trying to build a golf course on Ferry Point Park. His hero is Robert Moses.

    J. PIERRE GAGNE swept his arms across the misty horizon, taking in the former garbage dump under his feet, the soaring arches of the Whitestone Bridge above him and the gray tips of the Manhattan skyline eight miles in the distance.

    " 'The Power Broker,' page 775," Mr. Gagne said, referring from memory to a page in Robert A. Caro's famous book about Mr. Gagne's hero, Robert Moses.

    Mr. Gagne, 50, is interested in that part of the book about the famed public works chief because it discusses Ferry Point Park, the land on which he now stands and on which, he figures, he can forge his own immortality. Moses' asphalt-and-steel legacy included the West Side Highway, Triborough Bridge and Jones Beach; Mr. Gagne's dream, more modest, would feature putting greens and golf balls.

    Ferry Point Park is a 414-acre parcel in the southeast Bronx between the Whitestone and Throgs Neck Bridges; it borders the Throgs Neck neighborhood on the east and slopes down to the East River on the south. It is here, on the undeveloped eastern section of the park, that Mr. Gagne and three partners, including the legendary golfer Jack Nicklaus, are engaged in an on-again, off-again effort to build a $50 million, championship-quality public golf course.

    The project, originally expected to cost $22.5 million and to open as early as 2001, is now on again, thanks to a decision last October by the State Department of Environmental Conservation about the amount of landfill the developers can use.

    The course is now scheduled to be completed by fall 2005 and to open the following spring, but there is still risk, opposition and much undone work. Mr. Gagne needs to bring tons of dirt and rubble to make his course real; as golf lovers watch the 67th Masters Tournament today, he will be preparing for the hectic part of the construction season, when as many as 200 trucks bearing landfill will arrive daily at his site.

    He worries about the security of the finished course, too, and, despite the recent regulatory victory, some environmental concerns persist.

    Surprisingly, the biggest concern traces back to Mr. Gagne's hero, Robert Moses, who wanted to turn a marshland into Ferry Point Park. He did so, but he did it by filling the marsh with garbage, which has been rotting and exuding methane gas, the major environmental problem that Mr. Gagne faces.

    Despite that baggage and despite the revulsion that many people have for what they see as Moses' highhanded destruction of neighborhoods, Mr. Gagne still likes the man. "I liked the mover and shaker attitude he had," said the developer, who first learned about Moses when a college professor recommended he read the Caro book. He has been aiming for his own chance to move and shake ever since. His chance is Ferry Point Park.

    The other day, a tanned, suave Mr. Gagne stood near the southeast edge of the golf course of his dreams and evoked what he considers the two greatest public works of the borough, the Bronx Zoo and the New York Botanical Garden. "Over 130,000 cars a day pass over the Whitestone Bridge and see this property,'' he said. "This is the gateway entrance to the Bronx. This will become the Bronx's third jewel."

    Finesse, and Engineering

    To build a 222-acre golf course and park on top of an old garbage dump requires a degree of finesse that Moses, who amassed near-dictatorial power in the mid-20th century, never needed.

    But Mr. Gagne (pronounced gah-NYAY), who was born in Montreal to French-speaking parents, moved with his family to Tarrytown, N.Y., at age 9, and has a degree in engineering from Manhattan College, brings some assets to the task.

    "His strength, in contrast to other developers with financial or legal backgrounds, is that he has technical skills that are important in these sorts of complicated projects," said Michael Divney, the owner of a White Plains planning and engineering consulting firm where Mr. Gagne held his first job.

    Early in his career, the projects he zeroed in on were golf courses. Mr. Gagne believed they were the places to which aging baby boomers would turn when their basketball and softball days were behind them.

    "He was always talking about the future of golf courses, about the potential for high-end public golf courses in the Northeast because there weren't enough of them," said Steven J. Caspi, owner of Caspi Development in White Plains, where Mr. Gagne worked as a consultant from 1982 to 1992. As it happened, Mr. Caspi's company was hired by Japanese investors to help develop the Golf Club at Purchase, in Purchase, N.Y. Mr. Gagne, a golfer since he was a teenager, worked diligently on the building of that lush private club.

    Mr. Gagne, who now lives in Greenwich, Conn., with his wife, started his own development company in 1993. Four years later, New York City asked for proposals to build a public golf course at Ferry Point Park. With partners Jonathan Stern and Paul Kanavos of Flag Financial Corporation of New York, who handle the financing, and Mr. Nicklaus, with whom Mr. Gagne worked on the Purchase project, he won the bid. Under it, Ferry Point Partners must pay a minimum of $1.25 million a year to the city once the course opens, more if revenues are high. Thirty-five years after opening day, the city assumes ownership.

    "I jumped up and down and screamed and hollered in joy,'' Mr. Gagne recalled about the moment he got the news. "I said, 'Yahoo!' ''

    If all goes according to plan, the course promises to be a beautiful thing, a 7,000-yard rolling belt of green, long enough to accommodate a Professional Golfers Association tour event, or Olympic golfing if New York wins the 2012 Games.

    "Because the site is close to the water and is relatively flat, we felt we could create something very natural, very non-manmade," said Mark Meijer, who is helping plan the course with a firm run by Mr. Nicklaus. "Jack's concept is to create a Scottish links look with windswept dunes and native grasses between the fairways."

    The greens and fairways will be planted with state-of-the-art bent grasses: dense, low-growing grass that can endure shoe spikes and help balls roll. There will be a driving range. Mr. Gagne hopes New York Waterway will build a pier near the course for ferry service from Wall Street. He plans to put up clubhouses, with graceful, steep shingle roofs in the style of Stanford White, for weddings and corporate events. As part of its deal with the city, the developers will also refurbish a seven-acre community park in Throgs Neck and build a 19-acre waterfront park and esplanade outside the course in Ferry Point Park.

    It is an impressive product and Mr. Gagne sells it hard. The other day, as he pointed at a rocky shore strewn with shredded tires and broken bottles, he conjured up the Côte d'Azur. "If you go to the beaches in the south of France, they're in a crescent like this," he said. "So that at any point you have a beautiful view of the whole beach."

    Visitors, Wanted and Unwanted

    Last year, there were about 755,000 rounds played on the city's 13 municipal courses. The city collected $4.2 million from the private vendors running those courses, whose receipts totaled $21.9 million.

    But while fees on the municipal courses are about $20 a round, Mr. Gagne currently plans to charge city residents $65 to $100 a round and others $120 to $150. For those prices, people will expect to enjoy one of the best things about golf, the feeling that the outside world has been left behind, that the course is a special, insulated world where the only dangers are misplaying dimpled balls and wagering too boldly on a putt.

    Will they come at those prices? Given that there are 18.7 million people within 50 miles of Ferry Point Park, and that the course will allow a maximum of 60,000 rounds a year, Mr. Gagne believes they will. "To have a Jack Nicklaus signature golf course 20 minutes from Manhattan will be a rare gem,'' he said. "A hundred bucks, 150, 200, it's going to be easy to get that.''

    But the high-end approach has another risk. With acres of lush green, Mr. Gagne worries that unwanted visitors will be tempted to invade the grounds. "Keeping 222 acres in the Bronx pristine is not easy," he said.

    The course area is protected by the East River to the south and the Whitestone Bridge and the Hutchinson River Parkway to the west. Most of the north is St. Raymond's Cemetery. But on the east is the very live working-class neighborhood of Throgs Neck, and on the northeast edge are the Throggs Neck Houses, a 33-building public housing project with 5,500 residents.

    As part of the contract with the city, "We're rebuilding the ball fields over there," Mr. Gagne said during a tour of the property, waving a finger toward the projects. There will be a high iron fence around the course, along with 24-hour foot and Jeep patrols. "Whether we'll have dog patrol as well,'' Mr. Gagne said, "is unknown at this time."

    Much, but not all of the nearby community has long been sold on Mr. Gagne's plan. "Just the specter of it has raised real estate values," said James Vacca, the district manager of Community Board 10 and an enthusiastic supporter. "People who advertise their apartments for rent advertise them as 'overlooking soon-to-come golf course.' ''

    But some people have reservations. "You don't put in a luxury golf course and call it a city park,'' said David Lutz, executive director of the Neighborhood Open Space Coalition. "The residents of that community make, what, $15 an hour? It takes a lot of hours to afford to play a round of golf.''

    Dwayne Jenkins, president of the tenant association at Throggs Neck Houses, has a different concern - dangerous gases pushed out of the ground and into the air by the construction. "I think the golf course could be a great asset to the community of the Bronx," he said. "But the health issues that must be addressed must be addressed."

    The central health worry is "methane migration." Rotting garbage produces methane, which normally disperses at low concentrations straight up through the ground and into the atmosphere. But when someone deposits tons of fill on top of the garbage, as Mr. Gagne is doing, the gas can be forced sideways, as if someone were pushing on a wet sponge. At the spots near the edges of the fill where the migrating methane finds an opening to vent upward, the gas can become concentrated, potentially to levels where it will explode if exposed to a spark.

    Still, despite environmentalists' opposition, the Department of Environmental Conservation approved Mr. Gagne's landfill request last October. On Nov. 1, the work restarted.

    "The opponents of the plan have had their days in court," said Adrian Benepe, the city parks commissioner. "We believe the project has passed all the tests."

    Mr. Gilbert added, "The project is currently on schedule and has no outstanding violations."

    The Secrets of the Course

    Even if the legal and regulatory skies are momentarily clear, Mr. Gagne still faces a ton of work. A good golf course is not flat; it has slopes and gullies and elevation changes. But, here, digging down to create contour will not work because down means garbage, the legacy of Moses. Unearth it and, environmental rules dictate, it must be hauled away and dumped at a legally approved site. "Every time we take one cubic yard off this site, that's $130," Mr. Gagne said.

    These circumstances have sharply altered the plans. Originally, for example, there were to be four large bodies of water on the course; now, the project calls for two small ponds.

    Moreover, if digging down costs too much, the only way to create the necessary dunes and hills is to build up. Thus, for the next year at least, the biggest chore for Mr. Gagne is to dump clean dirt and rubble, which must meet state standards for "clean'' fill, on top of the existing soil.

    Toward that end, Mr. Gagne's team tracks nearly every construction and demolition project in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. When they hear about a school project in Yonkers or a road-building effort in White Plains, they work phones and CB radios to coax convoys of dump trucks here.

    Besides being a landscaping necessity, this dirt means money to Mr. Gagne because construction companies pay to dump. He says that he receives $7 per cubic yard for the landfill, and the government's decision to allow more fill means he will receive millions more in fees. (The money will help to ease the project's growing cost, although critics say these revenues should go to the city, especially given that it is footing the project's environmental bill.)

    Once the basic shape of the course is set, fine layers of gravel and sand will be placed on the fill, followed by topsoil and grass.

    "The final layer will be cleaner than the top layer of Central Park," said Mr. Gagne, who has been to many, many meetings about the project and has developed a few such nicely quotable phrases.

    It's a big project. It has made Mr. Gagne a player - nowhere near as big as Moses, but a player.

    Page 775 of "The Power Broker" chronicles a 1947 meeting at which Moses threatened to resign as parks commissioner if the city's powerful Board of Estimate did not let him hire expensive private engineers for Ferry Point. The board argued that he should use engineers already on the city payroll. But the board members, who knew Moses' resignation would upset Mayor William O'Dwyer and cost them their political careers, buckled.

    Mr. Gagne likes that. "This is exciting," he said, sitting in the white Jeep bumping along the site of his future course as dump trucks in the distance poured dirt along the 16th fairway. "This is world class. This will be remembered forever. Just like Robert Moses is remembered forever."

  2. #2
    Forum Veteran
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    Jan 2003
    Garden City, LI


    I can't wait. This will be a great thing for the city. *Screw the suburbs!

  3. #3
    Senior Member DougGold's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jan 2003
    LA, formerly NY


    I used to drive over the Whitestone all the time, and was always intrigued by that big wasteland of nothing aside it. I'm glad to see someone is trying to put it to use.

  4. #4


    New York Daily News -

    Enough dirt to fill Empire State Bldg.


    Sunday, October 24th, 2004

    The wind reader from Ireland has come and gone. Golf legend Jack Nicklaus has laid out the course. And every day, some 200 dirt-filled trucks dump another chunk of future fairway atop Ferry Point Park in the Bronx.

    Yes, a golf course is taking shape in this once blighted corner of Throgs Neck, where for years the city dumped trash and, more recently, thugs dumped abandoned cars.

    But now, after years of delay due to environmental suits, the city Parks Department and a private developer are sculpting what they say will be a world-class golf course at Ferry Point Park - just 10 miles from Times Square.

    What's envisioned is an 18-hole, par-72 course designed by Nicklaus that will use more than 1.5 million cubic yards of trucked-in dirt - enough to fill the Empire State Building from top to bottom - to sculpt a grassy, city-owned course between now and 2007.

    "You could be in Scarsdale, and you wouldn't even know it!" gushed developer Pierre Gagne as he stood among a series of rolling knolls now rising atop the marshy park.

    Under the deal with the city, Gagne's Ferry Point Partners will develop the site at an estimated cost of $65 million . In return, the city gets at least $1.25 million a year, and developers must build a 19-acre waterfront park and esplanade around the course. After 35 years, ownership reverts to the city.

    At one of Gagne's other Nicklaus-designed courses, the Golf Club of Purchase, memberships go for $350,000. Here, local duffers will likely be able to hit the links for around $65 - far more than the $35 greens fee at most city courses, but a bargain for a top course.

    There is even talk of drawing a PGA Tour event to Ferry Point, where the absence of trees and waterfront locale are intended to evoke Ireland's classic, links-style courses. Nicklaus even brought in a wind reader from Ireland to help determine how the prevailing breezes might naturally sculpt the land.

    "This is not just hurry up and go," said Gagne. "This is an art."

    As Gagne stood atop a dusty spot that will one day be the 14th tee, the Manhattan skyline was clearly visible. To the east, the Whitestone Bridge rose majestically over the East River. Closer by, huge bulldozers shaped mountains of deposited dirt, some of which was excavated from Ground Zero during construction of the rebuilt PATH station there.

    Gagne and his partners, who include Nicklaus and Paul Kanavos of Flag Luxury Properties, have so far gotten the go-ahead from the state Department of Environmental Conservation for 1.5 million cubic yards of dirt. Earlier this month, they asked for another 726,000 cubic yards, a request that is pending.

    All the dirt is needed, they say, because the park is literally a dump. The city used Ferry Point as a landfill during the 1950s, which makes digging below the surface an impossibility. So every little peak and valley on the 212-acre course has to be sculpted out of imported dirt.

    The tons of buried garbage also created vast pockets of potentially explosive methane gas in the ground, which environmentalists worried could be pushed toward surrounding homes by the weight of extra fill laid on top.

    But a huge trench built around the site - paid for with $6 million in city funds - has helped the gas escape, and monitoring wells dug by the state DEC have shown no recent spikes in methane levels.

    Community opposition also seems to have softened as residents start to see the course as a surefire way to boost property values.

    "What the city is getting here is three things," said Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe. "A championship-quality golf course, in a beautiful location, and with a very modest public investment."

  5. #5
    Senior Member
    Join Date
    Sep 2003
    Jackson Heights


    The New York Times
    City Ends Deal With Developer of a Long-Delayed Golf Course
    Published: November 3, 2006

    The idea was as simple as it was bold: Take a former garbage dump in a corner of the eastern Bronx and turn it into a championship-caliber golf course designed by Jack Nicklaus where Tiger Woods might tee off one day.

    But in the eight years since the Giuliani administration awarded a contract to a developer to transform the 222-acre site in Ferry Point Park, not a single blade of grass has been planted, and the city has spent more than $8 million cleaning up a toxic stew of arsenic, lead and leaking methane gas.

    Yesterday, the Parks Department announced that it had terminated its agreement with Ferry Point Partners, throwing into doubt the future of the golf course project and leaving Throgs Neck residents worrying what might happen next.

    “We’ve agreed to end the contract, as the terms could not be fulfilled,” said Warner Johnston, a Parks Department spokesman. The news was reported yesterday in The New York Post. City officials said the city would open the project to new bidders within the next few months.

    The golf course was originally scheduled to open in 2001, but its opening date was pushed back, most recently to 2009. Over the years, the estimated cost rose to $84 million from $22.4 million in 1998.

    During that time, nearly two million cubic yards of dirt were dumped at the site, creating giant mounds on the area. One cubic yard is equal to about 202 gallons.

    People bought homes for as much as $500,000 across the street from the landfill in anticipation of its transformation into a top-notch public course where a round of golf would have cost as much as $150.

    But given the years of delays, Dorothy Poggi, president of Ferry Point Advocates, said the contract termination was not unexpected. “This was the only outcome that could have happened, so I’m not surprised,” said Ms. Poggi, a longtime opponent of the plan.

    At various times, Ferry Point Partners has enlisted several high-powered officials to support its cause, including Rudy Washington and Robert Harding, who were deputy mayors under Rudolph W. Giuliani, and Edward C. Wallace, a former city councilman.

    J. Pierre Gagne, the chief operating officer of Ferry Point Partners, said yesterday that stringent government regulations had been the primary cause of his group’s problems. He said that as the cost of the golf course increased, the deal no longer made economic sense.

    Mr. Gagne, who said his group had spent more than $20 million on the golf course, said he would be willing to bid on the project again if it were restructured.

    “We can’t be faulted, and the city can’t be faulted,” he said. “I want to finish what I started.”

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