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Whitestone civics eye baseball field

Whitestone may get a new place to play ball if some community leaders have their way.

Alfredo Centola, president of the Malba Gardens Civic Association, has floated the idea of converting 6 vacant acres next to the Waterside Estates at the Cresthaven development into a community space featuring possible amenities such as sports fields, a clubhouse and more.

The plan revives a concept state Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) originally proposed a number of years ago when he was city councilman, but was unable to get off the ground due to inconsistent support among community members.

The site, with a sweeping view of the Throgs Neck Bridge, was formerly owned by Catholic Charities — the nonprofit arm of the Diocese of Brooklyn — which operated a summer camp and country club there for nearly four decades.

But ever since 1988, when the camp closed amid declining membership, it has sat unused, overgrown with tall grasses and empty except for a couple of cement foundations left over from the days when it hosted area children as a camp with a pool, hiking, playgrounds and other offerings.

Centola sees the site, bounded by Powells Cove Boulevard, 6th Avenue, 150th Street and the homes of Waterside Estates, as a rare chance for the community to come together to create something to benefit local residents.

“It would be ideal if you could take the remaining 6 acres and turn it into something for the kids,” Centola said while gazing out over the neglected lot. “The options are open right now. This is just an idea and a seedling. This is a concept that can grow and help the community.”

So he and Malba Gardens Civic member Dan Barton are looking into how best to pursue such a plan. The site was approved for construction of 55 homes before the economic downturn, so Centola and Barton want to work fast to purchase the property before the market rebounds. Barton said a real estate firm estimated last year that the land was worth $25 million. He and Centola say they hope it could sell for 50 percent to 70 percent less than what it was once worth´╗┐.

A coalition will be needed to support such an effort and outlay of funds, they say, so the civic is working with elected officials, local sports leagues and private companies to try to build a coalition to bring it to fruition.

“There’s no reason why the residents of a place like Whitestone can’t come together and preserve a piece of property for the youth in the community rather than build more houses and cause more traffic,” Barton said. “We’re going to contact corporations, we’re going to get together with people who’ve done this before, whether colleges or the YMCA or other groups, plus we could collect some private donations.”

Avella said this may be the time to revisit his plan and that he will direct his office to research possibilities for the site.

“There aren’t enough sports fields in northeast Queens for all the teams and kids who want to play,” Avella said. “I’ll have my staff start to look into it, and if theres an opportunity here, I’ll set up a meeting with [area civics] and see where we can go from here.”

But City Councilman Dan Halloran (R-Whitestone) said the plan may be hard to pull off.

“The Council member is concerned about costs,” Halloran spokesman Steve Stites said via e-mail. “The city just saved 20 firehouses and many teachers’ jobs, and we are still in a recession. Six privately owned acres in Whitestone won’t come cheap.”

Devon O’Connor, founding president of the Welcome to Whitestone Commercial and Residential Civic Association, said he is willing to pursue the project anyway.

“It’s a nice, open field, it’s about 6 acres and it’s a great spot,” O’Connor said. “Whatever I can do to get something like that going, I’d love to help, whether it be fund-raising or getting grants from the city, whatever I can do. I’d love to see something like that.”

Reach reporter Connor Adams Sheets by e-mail at csheets@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4538.

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