Volume 17 • Issue 31 | Dec. 24 - 30, 2004

Some bumps on the road to better Downtown parks

By Camille Le Gall

Speaking in broken English, the fortune tellers in Chinatown say they have lost a little bit of their clientele since Columbus Park closed earlier this year. They now wait for costumers sitting on small stools on the north entrance of the park, on Bayard and Mulberry Sts., next to the fence and the signs that say “Columbus Park closed. Under renovation.”

The park is one of 13 in Lower Manhattan scheduled for improvements and new construction under a program funded by the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation which allocated $24.6 million of his budget to the parks department for the project. The corporation was created after the 9/11 attacks, in order to promote and organize the revitalization of Lower Manhattan.

Of the 13 sites chosen, some are existing parks while others, like Brooklyn Bridge Plaza or Wall Street Park, will be converted into green space with walkways, benches and gardens. The plans also provide for games like table tennis, volleyball and basketball, as well as tai chi areas. The initial project, outlined in the 2004 Mayor’s Management Report, called for all 13 parks to be completed by the end of this year. But several have been delayed because of construction changes and uncooperative weather. As of this month, only six of the 13 parks have been completed.

Ashe Reardon, a spokesman for the Parks Dept., said he expects that all 13 parks will be open to the public by spring. “We make every effort to complete projects on time, but the estimated timelines we made are projections,” he said.

Apart from Columbus, Brooklyn Bridge and Wall Street, four other parks will not be ready by the end of 2004: Coenties and Old Slip, two small public gardens in the Financial District; the Bosque of Battery Park, which was always expected to take longer than the other projects; and Sara D. Roosevelt Park, between Hester and Canal Sts.

The first park to reopen was Drumgoole Plaza on Frankfort and Rose Sts., near the Brooklyn Bridge. At the time, Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe, in a press release, praised the project as “a remarkable collaboration between city agencies that was completed six months ahead of schedule.” It was followed by Tribeca Park on W. Broadway and Beach St., in June 2004. In September 2004, the L.M.D.C. and Parks Dept. announced the reconstruction of four ballfields at East River Park. The most recent completion was the $1.8 million reconstruction of Al Smith Playground on Catherine Slip, Madison and South Sts., which opened last month.

The two other parks finished on time were Washington Market Park and Bowling Green Park, which is the oldest park in the city.

David DeMartinis, the construction supervisor for nine of the sites, said construction delays are to be expected. “Every time you open up the ground, you have utilities, like the gas, the telephone, etc. It takes more time,” said DeMartinis, who works for Trocom Construction Corp., the general contractor who won the bid for the parks project.

He also mentioned some design changes, referring particularly to Wall Street Park, a new green area between South and Water Sts. that will become a gathering place for office workers. The design includes granite and glass benches and an artistic fountain, donated by Deutsche Bank. DeMartinis said only half the park has been completed because the fountain had to be redesigned.

Joanna Rose, spokesperson for the L.M.D.C., said in a telephone interview that she was concerned that the work gets done on time. “We put a very aggressive deadline [on the Department of Parks and Recreations], but we don’t want to push,” she said.

However, Richard Ropiak, chairperson of the parks committee in Community Board 3, said the delays are unfortunate. “We hope it goes as quickly as possible,” he said.

On a recent afternoon, residents interviewed about the renovation of parks in their neighborhood were generally positive.

Bryan Dominick, 34, a video engineer who lives on the Lower East Side welcomed the improvements. “Parks are good,” he said. “I go to Seward Park, near where I live. It was renovated I think two years ago and it was really nice,” he said.

But like the lady fortunetellers, he was disappointed by the delays and the inconvenience caused by the temporary closure. “It’s better to do no constructions at all than having delays, because once the fences are there, no one can use the park,” he said. “And who knows what the city budget will be in spring?”

Downtown Express photo by Jennifer Weisbord

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