By Anindita Dasgupta
The grass is finally within their grasp. After years of battling to reopen the northern reaches of City Hall Park, advocates learned this week that the gates will finally swing wide next Tuesday at 6 a.m.
Manhattan Borough Parks Commissioner Bill Castro addressed the Friends of City Hall Park on Tuesday night at an informal rally near the parks iconic fountain.
Lets clap every time he says, The park is going to open, said Skip Blumberg, head of the Friends organization, which has been fighting to improve the park and increase access to it for nearly a decade. Weve been waiting for a long time and are thrilled that the park is finally opening.
The Friends staged the rally after worries surfaced that the Parks Department was falling behind on its agreement to renovate and reopen the park this summer. In addition to the Friends, the small rally attracted lawyers, a representative from the new City Hall branch of Commerce Bank and Sayar Lonial, an aide to Councilmember Alan Gerson. At the rally, Lonial announced that the councilmember had put aside a small amount of money for programming once the parks northern end is open.
Blumberg and his organization have been fighting for the uptown section of the park to reopen since the city closed it off in 1999. They were joined by State Senator Martin Connor, who also attended the rally, in their efforts to increase public access to the park. In February, Connor stepped in to facilitate negotiations between Friends and the citys Parks Department.
I talked with each side and then got them together. We got them to be on the same page, Connor said on Wednesday. Friends and Parks reached an agreement, which was presented to and ratified by Community Board 1.
In accordance with the agreement, a 5-foot-2-inch-high, steel-bar fence has been constructed along the southern edge of the east-west pathway in the northern section of the park. The expected completion date of the fence was supposed to be sometime in July, and it appears that Parks has finished its work just under the wire.
The agreement states that the park will be open daily from 6 a.m. to 1 a.m. However, sections will be closed off for Ross Global Academy, the charter school housed inside Tweed Courthouse, during their gym and recess periods between 11:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. During the schools arrival and dismissal, the two northern gates along Chambers St. will be closed, as well. But both gates will be open for the rest of the day and fully open when the school is not in session during holidays and vacation periods.
The entire park was closed after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks because of security concerns for City Hall and Tweed Courthouse, which are separated by a portion of the park. While Mayor Mike Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly opened the south end of the park after Bloomberg took office in 2002, until the recent agreement, they would not reopen the northwest lawn, which has been closed since renovations began in 1999.
Connor has taken special interest in the park. Like many of the members of Friends, Connor remembers the space before it was closed off. He recalls bringing his oldest son to play in the park.
I think in Lower Manhattan, we suffer from a lack of green space, he said.
Blumberg also commented about the need for a relaxing space Downtown.
Were all happy to be here in our stressed-out lives in New York City, he said at the rally. We need a space where we can get away and relax.