Volume 22, Number 20 | The Newspaper of Lower Manhattan | September 25 - October 1, 2009

Don’t say timber yet. State mulls W. Thames Park alternative

By Julie Shapiro

A beloved Battery Park City park could win a last-minute reprieve if a state agency comes up with a viable plan to save it.

After a recently formed community group objected to the planned demolition of Tire Swing Park, the State Dept. of Transportation agreed this week to look into an alternative.

The current plan is to tear down the park’s wooden play equipment and the mature trees that shade it, to make way for a new playground with more modern equipment and water features. Now, less than three weeks before construction is scheduled to begin, D.O.T. is working on a way to maintain as much of the original park as possible.

“It’s a step in the right direction but not the last step,” said Matthew Fenton, who co-founded the Coalition to Save Tire Swing Park. “For the first time, they didn’t say no.”

State D.O.T. will present two options for the park’s future to Community Board 1’s Battery Park City Committee Oct. 6. The committee and then the full board will vote on one of the plans, and that is what will be built, D.O.T. spokesperson Adam Levine said.

The C.B. 1 committee and full board approved the original plan, but members are willing to consider alternatives.

D.O.T. officials made the commitment to revisit the design at a meeting Monday night of the W. Thames Park Working Group, which has been discussing the park’s design for months. And the broad strokes of the plan have been on the books for years, as part of the state’s larger Route 9A project.

But the Save Tire Swing Park group just formed last month, saying they had not known about the plans until now and wanted their voices heard.

“We have a lovely park,” said John Dellaportas, founder of the Save West Street Coalition. “There is no reason to bulldoze it. This is not progress.”

The project also includes a leveled playing lawn, a dog run and community gardens, amenities to which the Tire Swing Park group has no objections. And the group has largely given up on objecting to the impetus for the project, a pedestrian promenade stretching from Battery Park up the West Side that was a pet project of former Gov. George Pataki. That promenade will require the loss of some trees and park space, but the Tire Swing Park group hopes to preserve as much of the park’s character and features as possible.

State D.O.T. plans to close the park Oct. 13 to start work on the promenade and bikeway portion, which includes the installation of a gas line. That work will take until Thanksgiving, so D.O.T. has until then to finalize the plan for the rest of the park.

The park is scheduled to reopen by Memorial Day, 2010.

At Monday night’s meeting, D.O.T. announced some smaller changes they have already made to the plan based on the Tire Swing Park group’s concerns. One is to restore a real, rubber tire swing to the finished design, rather than the similar plastic feature that was planned.

“One of the things that is now absolutely evident is that there is no substitution for a tire swing,” said landscape architect Signe Nielsen.

Many residents are also concerned that the D.O.T. plans to cut down nearly two-dozen mature trees. Nielsen said Monday that she found a way to save one of those trees and to add more replacement trees than original planned.

Many of the park’s users, though, say young saplings will be no match for the towering trees in place now, so Nielsen agreed to install a temporary shade structure over part of the playground and to plant trees that will start out at 20 feet tall, rather than the typical 15 feet. Nielsen also presented shade studies showing that while the park is sunny in the morning, by the afternoon the surrounding buildings cast broad shadows over it.

Linda Belfer, chairperson of C.B. 1’s B.P.C. Committee, praised D.O.T. for responding to concerns that came so late in the game, but she also said it is important to come up with a final plan soon and stick to it.

“The longer we screw around with this, the longer it will take to open,” she said.






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