Halloran, civic argue online over Whitestone sports field

Al Centola, president of the Malba Gardens Civic Association, stands in front of the unused property he hopes will one day become a sporting complex. Photo by Joe Anuta
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As a Whitestone civic group fights to turn an overgrown, empty lot into a community sports complex, one resident’s innocuous post on Facebook has spawned a well-documented and surprisingly candid discussion into opinions on both sides of the fence.

The Malba Gardens Civic Association has been toying with the idea of building baseball, soccer and running facilities on the vacant, 6-acre lot along 150th Street for years, according to the civic’s president, Alfred Centola.

“My idea is to reacquire the land and give it back to the kids of the community,” he said of the lot, between 3rd and 6th avenues, which was previously owned by the Catholic Youth Organization.

The quest was laid out in an October Daily News opinion piece written by Centola, and it all seemed like a good idea to Steve Behar, who posted “Nice Op-Ed. My brother and I went to that CYO camp” at 5:56 p.m. Oct. 5 on Centola’s Facebook page.

Twelve minutes later, City Councilman Dan Halloran (R-Whitestone) replied: “Steve — and who’s going to come up with the tens of millions to acquire, remediate, develop, build, and staff this facility?”

A flurry of 46 more comments followed — many containing personalized barbs — and offered a frank and transparent discussion about the benefits and hurdles associated with the project.

Centola made the argument that Whitestone sports leagues, which must often travel outside the neighborhood for lack of facilities, are behind the plan en masse.

“The leagues in the community, which to me are civic groups, love the idea and have offered to help in any way possible. They represent thousands of families in the community and are the best [gauge],” he said.

But Halloran said the community is not wanting for greenspace and that money he and other electeds allocated years ago to refurbish and maintain other parks in the area has still not been spent.

“[The city Parks Department] sits on these projects driving up prices and delays work to discourage spending — its not the local electeds its the mayor’s office and Parks [bureaucrats] that are the problem,” he said.

Halloran often tempered his responses with phrases like “guess you didn’t know that” or “you have no clue how discretionary spending works.”

Centola at one point referred to the councilman as “testy” and said “try and relax yourself, you might give yourself a heart attack.”

One person absent from the Facebook conversation was state Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside), who originally proposed the site as potential parkland, but could not command community support. He has publicly expressed his support for the sporting complex using other mediums.

The construction of 55 homes was once planned for the site, but aside from some tennis courts and a swimming pool leftover from the youth organization, which closed in 1988, nothing was ever built, according to the civic.

The land is currently in foreclosure, and Centola hopes that bank will be looking to unload it for cheap in the down market.

During better economic times, a real estate firm estimated the land was worth $25 million, according to the civic, which hopes the city could use eminent domain to nab it for 50 percent to 70 percent less than that.

Reach reporter Joe Anuta by e-mail at or by phone at 718-260-4566.

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Reader Feedback

Minister Di Donna from Whitestone says:
Perhap's the Malba Gardens Civic Association could interest the owners of the New York Met's, Yankee's, Major Soccer Team or even a private Corporation in purchasing the park land for local sports event's. After-all they spend million's in advertisement every year just to put their name out in the public and what better way to have the park named after the one's who puts up the cash to buy it etc. As far as insurance and the up-keep of it. I'm sure the association will be able to get some help from the owner's of the Pro-Sports Team or Private Corporation and from our elected official's etc. The key here is to keep the property from going on the market and parceled out to a private developer. I wish I had the money to purchase it for the community. The only thing I would want is to have a blown up picture of me looking out into the horizon about the same size as the one of Chairman Mao over-looking Tiananmen Square in Beijing, China.
Dec. 3, 2011, 3:06 pm
fyi from ify says:
We were unaware the article was going to go the way it did. We were under the impression it was to be a follow up on the proposal and what stage it was in.
Dec. 11, 2011, 1:59 pm
Lou from Whitestone says:
You people are too much everything is an argument. Everyone has the best intentions and then gets caught up in pissing contests. Who cares about all the other BS? This is a good idea, WTW has done good things, Devon has good good for the community, and Al has done good.

You people keep playing these games pitting one against the other while 52 more homes are going to eventually be built on a brown field. Gee wonder who is instigating all the rift?
Dec. 11, 2011, 2:05 pm
Edward from Bellemore says:
Ah the Psuedo Intellectuals of Whitestone. So glad I moved when I did. You people are sooo busy trying to hang a guy who is trying to better his community. How? by making allegations like above.

Just to clarify? Read the Face book rant, I did its public on the councilmans page. Look at what he said, who cares how it got out. The fact is he is rude and unprofessional. He obviously does not care about the neighborhood.

Devon and Al seem like good people who actualy care what is happening. Yet some will try to discredit people.

Glad I moved.
Dec. 11, 2011, 7:58 pm
FYI says:
Again, did you release your facebook conversation with our City Councilman Dan Halloran to the Whitestone Times?
Dec. 11, 2011, 11:36 pm
iyf says:
This was public information who cares how it was made public anyway. It's a great idea and the "our" councilman was wrong.

move on and work together.
Dec. 12, 2011, 12:46 pm
FYI says:
Did you release Your facebook conversation with our City Councilman Dan Halloran to the Whitestone Times?
Dec. 12, 2011, 2:16 pm
Joe says:
No and even if he did it would be a mute point.
Dec. 12, 2011, 7:33 pm
Joe says:
Yes our elected representatives must deal with public scrutiny. Facebook scandal? Do tell, like Watergate? The public cried foul? It appears that the only one crying foul and refusing to accept the fact that it was on the representatives public page.

Ive known Al for a while now, and everything he has done has been for the kids of our neighborhood.

Al has said he was under the impression the article was going to take a different route and has also stated that it was factual. That is the point here, our "representative" was rude and out of line. What is sad is that you refuse to accept what happened and that Halloran was wrong yet again.
Dec. 20, 2011, 8:53 am
Joe says:
Yet you do not question the morals of an elected representative whose job it is to represent his district.

A man who has done several questionable things since taking office, and berates and insults his constituents.

Good to know there aren't too many people like you out there. You sound like an intelligent young woman yet your point is misguided.
Dec. 21, 2011, 10:25 pm
FYI says:
Again, did he release his facebook conversation with our City Councilman Dan Halloran to the Whitestone Times?
Dec. 23, 2011, 7:57 am
Miguel from whitestone says:
we should be concerned with centola taking pictures on school buses. that is a concern for all whitestone residents
Oct. 27, 2012, 6:14 pm

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