Volume 19 Issue 36 | January 19 - 25, 2007

The Parks Dept. plan for Burling Slip has been rejected by the Art Commission.

Parks Dept. says slip up at Burling is temporary

By Brooke Edwards

Plans for the much-publicized new playground at Burling Slip were slowed but not halted after the city Art Commission proposed modifications to its design.

The playground’s design team — made up of a partnership between the Parks Department and the Rockwell Group architectural design firm — presented their plans during a public hearing on Jan. 9.

While most who attended the hearing agree that the feedback was generally positive, the majority of the members of the Art Commission — along with other groups present, including the Historic Districts Council and the community group SeaportSpeaks — expressed concern over two of the playground’s elements: the height of one piece of equipment and the obtrusiveness of the chain link fence that would enclose the park.

“The project was tabled so that we can continue our work with the Art Commission to make some modifications,” wrote Ashe Reardon, spokesperson for the Parks Department, in an email on Wednesday. “This is common practice and not unusual whatsoever.”

He said the Art Commission will not be able to halt the project if it rejects the modifications. “In actuality, the Art Commission is an advisory panel that the Parks Department partners with but they have no approval over this project,” Reardon wrote.
Officials with the commission did not respond to requests for comment.

The design team was understandably defensive after rumors began circulating on the Web that the Art Commission had rejected the plans altogether.

Downtown Express photo by Jefferson Siegel

Burling Slip, quoting a tipster, reported that the plan “was killed by the City Art Commission… It’s dead.”

Lee Gruzen, co-chairperson for SeaportSpeaks, attended the Art Commission hearing and said she thought the park would be approved soon. “The plan is really moving in the right direction. It just needs some enrichment, some continuity.”

Gruzen said the main concern from her group is for the slip to still feel like a slip, remaining as open to the water as possible. That is why they were concerned over the height of one element.

However, Gruzen said, “The Rockwell Group and the Parks Department have been fabulous about meeting and judging the needs of the public.” She is confident that they will continue to do so with these minor concerns.

The construction of a playground at Burling Slip, which is currently a parking lot, is part of a $38 million plan to redevelop the neighborhood around Fulton St., including the historic Seaport district. The Lower Manhattan Development Corporation gave $2 million to develop and maintain the playground. Soon after, the Rockwell Group — led by celebrated architect David Rockwell — took on designing the playground as a pro-bono project, and is raising private funds to meet anticipated costs.

Named “Imagination Playground” by the Rockwell Group, the park made the front page of the New York Times last Wednesday and has sparked several follow-up articles due to its unique design and “play workers,” who will be on hand to assist with safe and constructive playtime.

While a press release from the Parks Department dated Jan. 10 states that construction on the playground will begin in late 2007 — and other sources report opening dates of both fall 2008 and summer 2009 — Reardon refused to give a timeline for the project.

Reardon said, “We do not have a new date to present the modified plan to the Art Commission but we hope to be back within the next couple of months.”

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