Volume 20 Issue 12 | August. 3 - 9, 2007

Downtown Express photos by Jefferson Siegel

Lunchers and chess players finally got to use the chess tables in City Hall Park’s northern section Tuesday, the first day it was reopened to the public after six years.

Visitors revel in City Hall Park north on reopening day

By Anindita Dasgupta with Jefferson Siegel

Fernando Lagares, a Staten Island resident who works on Chambers St., remembers relaxing in the northern section of City Hall Park before it was closed because of post-9/11 security concerns. Tuesday, the day of the park’s reopening, he basked in the sun, occasionally closing his eyes and meditating on a park bench in the newly opened section of the park.

“It’s nice to have a place to sit and have lunch or take a break,” he said, looking around. “The only other place is on Chambers and Greenwich St. or at the Seaport.”

He was joined by others who took refuge from the hot sun in the shade of the trees on either side of the path weaving through the park. While some like Lagares heard of the reopening beforehand, many tourists were surprised to learn that the area had been closed for so long. “There should be more places like this,” said Durand Francoise, who was writing postcards to her friends back in France. “It’s so quiet and peaceful.”

The northern section opened without an official ceremony as the gates swung open Tuesday morning at 6 a.m. Throughout the day, community members stopped in to check out the new space. Rick Landman, a member of Community Board 1 arrived at 9 a.m. to read a book. He said that he noticed Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe, landscape architect George Vellonakis, who redesigned the park in 1999, Police Commissioner Ray Kelly and Landmarks Preservation Commissioner Robert Tierney strolling through the park between 9 and noon.

Skip Blumberg, president and founder of Friends of City Hall Park, an organization that has been fighting to get the park open, lounged on a bench nearby. “We’re delighted that it’s open,” he said. “I’m looking forward to playing catch with my son.” Friends has been fighting for this section of the park to open since it was redesigned.

The entire park was closed after the September 11 terrorist attacks, but new Mayor Mike Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly opened the south end of the park in 2002. The northern end of the park has remained closed since then. In February, state Senator Martin Connor helped negotiate an agreement between Friends and the city’s Parks Department.

In a prepared statement, Bloomberg said the reopening of the northern section was to be “a good neighbor to the Lower Manhattan community.”

The park will open each morning at 6 a.m. and close at 1 a.m. Parts of the park will be closed for use by Ross Global Academy, a charter school that is housed inside the Tweed Courthouse, home to the Department of Education. The northeast corner lawn and the entrance on Chambers St. will be open when the school is not in session, except for two Saturday mornings each month. The other parts of the park will be unaffected.

Two members of the New York Police Department’s counter-terrorism unit wandered around the park Tuesday afternoon, gesturing towards different parts of the northern section with their hands. In their dark suits and sunglasses, they didn’t answer any questions about the reopening. “You wouldn’t want to talk to us,” one of them said, shrugging his shoulders. “We don’t know anything anyways.”

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