Bike Racers May Lose Prime Spot Due to Corporate Greed

Photo: Patrick Schnell
Photo: Patrick Schnell

Cyclists may lose one of the best racing spots in the city, thanks to the exorbitant permit fees of a private corporation.

Aviator Sports, a for-profit contractor that leases Floyd Bennett Field from the federal government, is increasing the price of a permit from $150 for the entire summer to $2,000 per race, which would bring the cost of the season to $34,000. The exorbitant price increase — roughly 22,567 percent — may prevent the long-running Tuesday Night Race Series from taking place this summer, cyclists say.

“You can’t imagine why a park would try to kick something like that out,” said Jon Orcutt, a spokesman for Bike New York. “Maybe there’s somebody at Aviator or National Parks whose got a grudge on the issue.”

Cyclists say the park, a defunct airfield, is the perfect setting for bike racing because it’s wide open, usually empty and its cracked pavement and harsh winds make for intense technical challenges.

The races, which have been held for 25 years, draw cyclists from all corners of the city, resulting in “a tapestry of people from everywhere,” according to Reed Rubey, who raced at the field for several years.

“It has the biggest cross-section of racers all over the city,” Rubey said. “It really truly represents what New York City is.”

According to Rubey, cyclists meet in Manhattan before the race, and bike down Flatbush Avenue all the way to the park. After the races, they bike back through Brooklyn and over the Brooklyn Bridge at night, into Manhattan for drinks.

Racing cyclists fear their community would fall apart without the space.

“It’s incredibly diverse, people come together and meet and have a great time, hang out after the races in the summer, it’s a great scene.” said Orcutt. “These people might not meet each other otherwise.”

Charlie Issendorf, a longtime organizer of the race series, met with Aviator CEO Dean Rivera on Wednesday for what he says was a fruitless meeting. According to Issendorf, Rivera focused on the cost of the races to Aviator being about $1,100 due to police, ambulances and Aviator staff needing to be present at the races. Rivera said Aviator would need to turn a $900 profit per race if the races are to continue.

Issendorf said he is frustrated by Aviator’s fixation on profit, especially since the park is public land.

“This is a public park paid for by our taxes,” Issendorf said. “Why does Aviator have to make a profit, and why are [National Park Service] employees turning our park over to Aviator and allowing them to make the park inaccessible?”

Aviator and the National Parks Service did not respond to phone calls before deadline. An online petition to keep the permit prices affordable has gathered over 1,500 signatures as of Thursday afternoon.

 

  • Larry Littlefield

    An 80 percent profit? That’s a little rich.

    Did the city just start charging them for police and ambulances?

    I thought they just leased the space for their facility. Did the federal government give them the whole thing?

    This is the place that everyone in Brooklyn goes to teach their kid to drive, and have for decades. Will there be a charge for that too?

  • Komanoff

    Seems like Bklyn Boro Prez Eric Adams — a lately and lovely convert to cycling — should take this on. Can the race organizers/supporters/participants reach out to him?

  • Why is this years NYC Century Tour being billed as the final NYC Century ?

  • Joe R.
  • Jo Jo

    Let’s make the bikers cycle into the CBD zone pay congestion pricing fee as well. They are also causing congestion with the introduction of designated bike lanes that are vastly under utilized. maybe they will not cycle in the CBD zone anymore and they can go back to tacking the fantastic MTA NYC subway system and we can close the down the bike lanes and the do away with UBER and cabs so everyone will take the great MTA nyc subway system and the MTA will have all the money they need to blow it all on upgrades like they did on the Q Second Ave extension to 96 street.

  • Kevin D. Brown

    Knowing the sorry state of the facility, when I first heard that fees were going up, I thought the operator might be wanting to upgrade the airfield or something and needed the help financing it. Evidently not. Seems to me that as long as they don’t actually do anything to maintain or operate the field for racing, they have no right to charge anything, either. It’s a dilapidated, abandoned airfield, public property, just sitting there. For them to charge $2000 just to “permit” people to ride bikes around on it for a couple of hours is highway robbery.

    Meanwhile, I just took a look at what they charge for their other facilities. $150/hour to use a field for soccer? That’s nearly ten times as much as Central Park! There it’s only $16/hour, and that’s only if it’s adults; for kids it’s free. Clearly the whole operation is just a huge money grab, not run as a public amenity, but only something to line the pockets of ‘investors.’ Even as a for-profit concession, surely someone else can do a much better job for less.

  • Ken H.

    Whichever local or federal political connections privatized Floyd Bennett Field is source of the potential fix. The racers at FBF have done maintenance on the airstrip over the years too. Counting on Dean Rivera’s social conscience wont work. Public discussion that affects Aviator’s bottom line might. Public park activities get grandfathered in age the Feds develop a private/public partnership. Aviator can charge for new programs they develop moving forward while public interest is served protecting existing successful programs like FFB racing.

  • Larry Littlefield

    It may be this isn’t just “corporate greed,” much as people might want to believe so. It might be in fact be political/union class greed, to benefit Generation Greed, MULTIPLIED (doubled in cost) by corporate greed.

    FYI, look at page 244 of this document.

    https://www1.nyc.gov/assets/omb/downloads/pdf/mm4-19.pdf

    In order to pay for, well, debt service, pension disability fraud and past pension increases, and certainly not services, the NYPD is being tasked with coming up with $17 million more in revenue per year. Fines, fees, what have you. (Another $14 million for Sanitation).

    How come Aviator is being forced to pay a fee for police and ambulance service because of bunch of people show up and ride bicycles there? Isn’t the highest state and local tax burden in the country, for 3 times the national average in police officers relative to population, and retirement after 20 years and far more active officers than those on the job, enough? Since when have such city fees been imposed?

    The police started having police fees for extra off duty officers to stay at places with a high propensity of victimization — night spots, for example. Then the started charging events such as the New York Marathon, which charge extensive fees and have TV revenues. But this?

    Let’s say that $17 million is going to be collected, somehow, exclusive by people on bicycles so as not to piss anyone else off. Bogus tickets, bogus fees, etc.

  • Justin Wood

    Great idea Charles. Will reach out to his staff.

  • Larry Littlefield

    “This is a public park paid for by our taxes,” Issendorf said. “Why does Aviator have to make a profit, and why are [National Park Service] employees turning our park over to Aviator and allowing them to make the park inaccessible?”

    FYI, the history is profits in NYC used to fund the NPS elsewhere. I doubt much of Gateway is funded by federal taxes. Everyone is scraping for money.

    But the article doesn’t imply the money is going to the NPS. It implies the money is going to the City of New York, with Aviator doubling it.

  • I just happened to be riding around in Floyd Bennett Field yesterday. While the runways are great for pleasure riding, they are in no condition for racing. Indeed, some of the bigger potholes have orange cones standing in them.

  • Simon Phearson

    Go to bed, you’re drunk.

  • Daphna

    The real problem is not corporate greed, but the regulations that government put in place that require a certain amount of police and ambulance presence at the races. I doubt that police and ambulance presence is something that Aviator chose. Those are likely regulations that they must comply with. It is understandable that Aviator wants want to break even on their costs. In essence with the previous fee scale, Aviator was spending far more than they took in for each race. It is natural that a company would want to cover costs incurred per race. The fight should be with politicians to roll back the police and ambulance requirements that make it so expensive. Or to have the police and ambulance charges be waived and not billed to the field management for these races.

  • Daphna

    There is so much government money out there. Somebody could write a grant application and get a grant that would cover the cost of the field rental (made so high by police and ambulance requirements set by some government entity).

  • This cost for outrageously excessive police presence is also what limits Summer Streets to only three or four mornings a year.

  • Paul McCarthy

    It is greed. Private ambulance service is paid for by the promoter/racers and there has never been a police presence at any races there or Prospect Park.There is literally nothing Aviator or the Park does or needs to do to allow racing there other than to let us use the space. The tarmac is obviously never taken care of. Volunteers have patched and weeded the course over the years. Now Aviator has their hand out….for what?

  • Paul McCarthy

    Let Aviator know how you feel by posting on their Yelp, Google, TripAdvisor sites. Contact whoever you can that can bring attention to this disgraceful display of extortion.

  • Joe R.

    If the city requires police or ambulance presence, then they’re the ones who should foot the bill. In general I hate unfunded mandates, which is really what this is. There’s no inherent reason you need either police or ambulances around for bike races. It’s doubtless a requirement made up by people who hate bikes. Same thing wit the “required” police presence for Summer Streets. There’s no need for it. It’s there just to limit Summer Streets, and to discourage similar events

  • Joe R.

    It’s the new way we do things since 2008—public risk, private profit.

  • Gabe

    For the past several years there has always been an ambulance service on-site during the races. The organizers of the race contracted directly with the ambulance service, and it was well within budget of the race. Why do the ambulance requirements drive the permit costs up over twenty thousand percent?

  • Gabe

    This is part of what makes the course interesting. Anyone who races at FBF takes a little bit of pride in how scrappy the course is. People get flats, it happens. It’s an excellent race venue.

  • Daphna

    Why is Aviator acting like they are paying the cost of the ambulance and police presence if it is the race that is paying for it? My comment was based on the assumption that Aviator incurred ambulance costs which is what the article seemed to convey.

  • Larry Littlefield

    Facts seem to be in dispute.

    If the racers pay for the ambulance, then is Aviator being charged for police? And if so, why?

  • Daphna

    Thank you for this information. This was not clear from the reporting in the article.

  • Joe R.

    I’ve never ridden it, but it can probably be thought of as a NYC version of the Paris-Roubaix.

  • Steve Patak

    The race has been permitted and is set the start up in June.

    https://www.facebook.com/556753257754006/posts/2193888444040471/

  • Fascinating. I admit that racing is so far from my consciousness and my capability that I can scarsely wrap my mind around that.

    But I certainly hope that some way can be found to preserve this race that so many people evidently like.

  • cjstephens

    Would you say that when some private entity, like the NFL or a movie studio, takes over city streets for an event? If a private group wants to host an event that is going to require extra manpower from the city, let them host and let them pay.

  • cjstephens

    Whenever I hear the phrase “corporate greed” get bandied about, my reaction is “aww, someone is unhappy that they’re not getting stuff for free?” This article didn’t change my mind.

  • Joe R.

    If the manpower is really needed, then of course the private entity should foot the bill. That goes double if they specifically request police or ambulance presence, even if it’s not strictly needed. I’m just not seeing any need for police or ambulance presence during a bike race. This isn’t a congested venue where you might need the police for crowd control (and the numbers who attend these races are usually pretty small). Bicycle racing isn’t so dangerous that you need an ambulance on site, either. As far as I know, you don’t have ambulances on site during most high school or college football games. Those have a far higher likelihood of sending someone to the hospital.

  • cjstephens

    The crowds might not be large, but if the route goes anywhere near traffic, I would want some way to separate speedy cyclists from any park users who might accidentally get in their way. And ambulance? Definitely. Bike racers ride aggressively (that’s the whole point), and high speed accidents happen.

  • Joe R.

    What’s the ETA of an ambulance from the nearest hospital? King’s Country Hospital is about 4 miles away on what is mostly uncongested roads. Probably an ambulance can be there in 5 minutes, give or take. Is NYC requiring the ambulance, or is it there just for liability reasons?

    I’m pretty familiar with the types of things which happen in bike races from years of watching them on TV. On flat courses, which is what this is, speeds generally don’t get much past 35 mph. The rate of severe injuries/deaths is pretty low at crash speeds of about 40 mph or under. These guys are usually in pretty great physical shape, and they know how to fall. I personally had a fall at 37 mph (not in a bike race), and came out of it with just road rash. If this were a hilly course with long, 60 mph descents, then yeah, I’d probably say an ambulance should be nearby. On a level course with a hospital only a few miles away, it’s probably not strictly necessary, even if it might be nice to have.

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