New group’s not in the swing of the park plan
A group of Battery Park City residents is making a last-ditch effort to save a shady, wooden playground from demolition.
The state’s plans to redo W. Thames Park have been on the books for four years, with more than a dozen public meetings on the design. But parents who either did not know about those meetings or feel their concerns have not been addressed are now moving to stop the construction six weeks before the shovels are slated to go in the ground.
“The people of this community have had enough of seeing things demolished and rebuilt,” said Matthew Fenton, a member of the Coalition to Save Tire Swing Park and a father of two.
Fenton and about 25 other neighborhood residents protested the planned demolition of the park — nicknamed for its central tire swing — at Community Board 1’s B.P.C. Committee Tuesday night, many with their children in tow. Fenton, who usually attends those meetings as a reporter for the Battery Park Broadsheet, said the coalition has collected 500 signatures from people who want to save the park.
Fenton and others object to ripping down the rustic, beloved park and uprooting the grove of mature trees that shade it. Although the State Dept. of Transportation, which is rebuilding the park as part of its larger Route 9A project, will replace the lost trees and add even more, the new trees will be saplings, offering little shade, Fenton said.
The impetus for the project is former Gov. George Pataki’s vision for a grand West St. pedestrian promenade. The first phase, a little-used expanse of benches and landscaping along the southern few blocks of West St., drew ridicule from the community and earned the nickname “Pataki-stan.”
The next phase of the walkway, which is narrower, would cut into the eastern edge of the current W. Thames Park, so the D.O.T. decided to redesign the park to fit in the walkway and make other improvements. The new park will have an enlarged lawn, requested by Downtown’s youth sports leagues, and the lawn will no longer slope, as it does now. The new park will also have an additional basketball court and will have separated areas for different ages of children.
Unlike the current playground, the new play equipment will comply with the latest safety codes — in response to the current conditions, Tom Goodkind, a board member, said his children nicknamed the playground “Splinter Park.” The new park will not have a traditional tire swing made of rubber but will have a similar feature made of another material.
Jeff Galloway, co-chairperson of C.B. 1’s B.P.C. Committee, said anyone who objected to the park plans had plenty of chances to be heard over the past four years. He quoted from past Downtown Express articles about packed public meetings on the park and the compromises the community secured.
“No matter how valid the objections are, there’s a time for raising them and a time for taking action,” Galloway said. If a project stops whenever a new group of stakeholders comes forward with a new concern, the end result is “a hole in the ground, like the World Trade Center,” Galloway said.
Construction at W. Thames Park is supposed to close the park starting on Oct. 13. The work would last through the winter and the park is scheduled to reopen at the end of next May.
The $9 million project is funded by the Federal Transit Administration, and that money could be in jeopardy if the project does not start this year, said Joe Brown, the D.O.T.’s 9A project director. The project also includes rebuilding the dog run immediately to the south, which will take three months and will not require the dog run to close.
Galloway and other C.B. 1 members said the community should put all its effort into getting the current design of the park to open on time in May. Aides to Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and State Sen. Daniel Squadron concurred, promising to listen to everyone’s concerns but offering little support to those who want to slow the project down.
Nearly everyone at the meeting, whether they like the new park plan or not, doubted that the D.O.T. could build it within the scheduled seven-and-a-half months. The contractor originally estimated the park would take 12 months to rebuild, including a two-month winter hiatus. But D.O.T. pushed the contractor to compress the schedule, and if the construction falls behind, the contractor will work longer hours, said Tom Mellett, D.O.T.’s 9A construction manager.
“It’s a very workable plan,” Mellett said. “Is it a guarantee? No.”
Regardless of the timeline, many B.P.C. residents do not see why they should accept the park’s demolition as a fait accompli.
John Dellaportas, founder of the Save West Street Coalition, said he sees no reason to destroy the park, especially if the main reason is to create Pataki’s walkway.
“You work for us,” he told the cadre of D.O.T. officials at Tuesday’s meeting. “This is our community.”
Dellaportas and Fenton said pedestrians could use the existing path on the west side of Tire Swing Park, making the Pataki walkway unnecessary.
But C.B. 1 members immediately objected, saying that would draw extra tourists into the park and the neighborhood. They also worried that if the walking and bike paths diverged, pedestrians would choose the more direct route and walk on the bike path, which is dangerous.
Linda Belfer, chairperson of the B.P.C. Committee, was hesitant to make any changes to a plan for W. Thames Park that was based on months of meetings and consensus building. But she and the other board members agreed to try to find a compromise with the Save Tire Swing Park group at a public meeting with D.O.T. Sept. 21. The time and location have not been set.
At that meeting, Signe Nielsen, a landscape architect, will present details on the new trees that will be planted in the park and on possibilities for alternate shade canopies while the trees grow.
Fenton said after the meeting that he was “guardedly optimistic” that the community board is considering his group’s concerns.
“If we get part of what we want, that’s positive,” he said.
By Julie Shapiro