By Stephen Stirling
Queens Olympian Al Oerter made a name for himself decades ago, earning the respect of past generations tossing discs through the sky. Now that name sits atop a project that will help future generations both on the ground and below it.
A bevy of elected officials cut the ribbon on the Al Oerter Recreation Center in Flushing Saturday morning — a $50 million facility which stands above a massive sewage overflow tank that was designed to clean up the longâˆ’polluted Flushing Bay and Creek.
“The Al Oerter Recreation Center is a beautiful facility that is aptly named after one of Queens’ own,” Bloomberg said. “This facility has firstâˆ’class athletic equipment and training space, including a cardio room, weights, an indoor racquetball court, a gymnasium and an aerobics room. It’s got everything an aspiring young Olympian would need to start pursuing his or her dreams.”
Oerter was born in Astoria in 1936 and won gold medals in the discus throw in four straight Olympics from 1956âˆ’68. His widow, Cathy Oerter, said Oerter, who died in 2007 at the age of 71 after a battle with cardiovascular disease, would have been proud to have his name on such a facility.
“Al was what some view as the last pure Olympian. He took the journey for the journey’s sake,” Cathy Oerter told a packed house of young athletes, residents and community leaders. “And I know that this facility will help you all achieve your dreams.”
The Al Oerter Recreation Center is a more than 40,000âˆ’squareâˆ’foot facility at 131âˆ’40 Fowler Ave. on the corner of Flushing Meadows Corona Park, which is now open to the public daily and features a variety of workout and recreation equipment.
Borough President Helen Marshall, who grew up near Flushing Meadows Corona Park, said she is thrilled to see the rebirth the area has gone through over the last decade.
“When I was growing up, Queens was culturally barren. We used to come to the park to go ice skating, but that’s about all you could do,” Marshall said. “This is just another step toward turning this into one of the city’s great parks and destinations.”
Marshall was quick to note, however, that it was not only the recreation center itself, but what is below it that is crucial to the area’s future.
Beneath the the recreation center is a 28.5âˆ’millionâˆ’gallon combined sewage overflow tank that recently became operational. The tank, which had been in development since the early 1990s, is designed to improve water quality in the polluted Flushing Creek and Flushing Bay it abuts as well as reducing the amount of flooding events in the surrounding area.
“It has been a long, long haul,” Marshall said. “But we’re on our way.”
Reach reporter Stephen Stirling by eâˆ’mail at [email protected] or by phone at 718âˆ’229âˆ’0300, Ext. 138.