downtownexpress.com
Volume 19 Issue 40 | February 16 - 22, 2007

City Hall Park’s north section will reopen

Downtown Express photo by Jefferson Siegel

The city Parks Dept. says much of City Hall Park’s north section will reopen to the public “when warm weather comes.” This Chambers St. fence, now open only to parents and students at the Tweed Courthouse school, will soon be open to everyone.

By Ernest Scheyder

The long-standing feud between the city and Downtown parks activists came to an end Tuesday night when Manhattan Borough Parks Commissioner William Castro unveiled plans at Community Board 1’s Seaport Committee meeting to re-open City Hall Park.

“It’s an opportunity to re-open much of the north end of the park,” Castro told the committee.

As part of the plan, a fence will be erected in the area between Tweed Courthouse and the City Hall building. The area north of City Hall will be open to the public, and will be accessible through two entrances on Chambers St. and one on Centre St., said Warner Johnston, a spokesperson for the city.

The park was closed in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks out of security concerns for City Hall and neighboring Tweed Courthouse, which now houses the city Department of Education. Community activists had long decried the continued closure of the park, even as surrounding public areas reopened in the nearly six years since the World Trade Center towers fell.

Mayor Mike Bloomberg and Ray Kelly, his police commissioner, ordered the south end of the park to be reopened a few days after they took office in January 2002, but they resisted repeated calls to reopen the northwest lawn, which had been closed since a 1999 renovation, and the north path. Johnston said the community pressure prompted city officials to take another look at the issue.

He said there’s no timeline for the park to reopen, though he expects action on the plan “when warm weather comes.”

“This is going to take us some time to implement,” Johnston said. “There’s fences up. We can’t just rip them out.”

Once the park is reopened, its northwest lawn will close from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. weekdays for the recess sessions for the charter school housed in Tweed Courthouse. The rest of the time the park will be open for community use, but will be closed from 1 a.m. to 6 a.m., like most other city parks.

“The idea is to make this as open as possible,” Castro said. The reopened section includes the lawn, other plantings, chess tables and benches.

The reopened park will feature a replica of the original 1810 fence, standing at 5 feet, 2 inches. New fencing won’t require any new ground work, as the new fences will use existing posts from the $13.5 million renovation eight years ago. The park’s legacy harkens back to the 17th century, when it was used as a place for public executions and a burial ground.

This latest turn of events calms tension between Skip Blumberg’s Friends of City Hall Park and the city that almost escalated to the point of legal action when Blumberg threatened to sue the city to have the park reopened. Blumberg claimed at the time that the city could not close a public park without state legislation.

“This is just fantastic,” Blumberg told the committee and Castro, “but what will happen when the park is open?” Castro said his department was looking into hiring groundskeepers for the grass and planned flower planters.

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