Big, fluffy Bob Ross clouds hung over the Manhattan skyline yesterday afternoon, in full view from one of the best vantage points in the city to view them: Greenpoint’s new Transmitter Park. Almost perfectly parallel with the Empire State Building, the park provides an unparalleled panorama of Midtown and the rest of Manhattan.
Mayor Bloomberg and his Parks Commissioner Veronica White had crossed the river not only to take in the scene but also cut the ribbon on the 1.6-acre, $12 million project. It was Ms. White‘s first official public appearance after replacing Adrian Benepe, who had been in the job since 2001. It was her coming out, if a quiet one, with limited fanfare and few workers. Just another day on the job.
“Our administration has been revitalizing old infrastructure and recasting it in new ways that makes sense for New Yorkers today,” the mayor said proudly, pointing to the success of other projects like the High Line and Brooklyn Bridge Park as well.
But unlike those open space developments, heralded the world over, the waterfront of Williamsburg and Greenpoint has long languished. Not only was it cut off from the surrounding community for decades, but, despite the best efforts of the administration, little progress has been made on creating an emerald chain of parks and promenades following a major rezoning of the waterfront in 2004.
“WNYC Transmitter Park is also part of an ongoing effort to convert much of North Brooklyn’s waterfront shoreline into a network of interconnected open spaces,” the mayor said. “And that’s a big part of why we worked so hard with City Planning to rezone much of the area.”
After eight years, this is the first and only new park to fully open, though even it is not finished. A recreational pier is still under construction. The old WNYC transmitter station will eventually be turned into a café. There is a lovely green lawn in place and a nautical-themed playground, of which the mayor joked “I know where Marty is going to be later,” referring to the over-the-top Brooklyn borough president, Marty Markowitz.
Even more a Monday afternoon, the park was busy, and on weekends, it is packed. The esplanade at Northside Piers and the Edge, which was built with private funds by the developers of the adjacent Miami-esque condo towers, are equally busy throughout the year, suggesting a hunger for access to the waterfront, one that remains unmet. “I think it’s the most important unresolved issue from the rezoning,” local Councilman Steve Levin told The Observer following the ceremony.
Every park has its own unique problems, he said. At 65 Commercial Street, the city spent years negotiating with the MTA on where it ought to move its vehicles parked there, taking up valuable waterfront real estate. Neighboring Barge Park was held up for capital construction delays and complications surrounding the construction of a new $100 million Department of Environmental Protection barge, whose predecessor docks on the site (hence the planned park’s name).
Even Transmitter Park took longer to build than expected, as there were struggles with neighbors to gain access to the site, and then a lengthy construction process. The park was supposed to have opened at the beginning of summer, not the end of it.
Bushwick Inlet Park, running from North 11th to North 15th Street in a crescent along Kent Avenue and West Streets, is the biggest and most challenging of all the open spaces. As with so many waterfront parks, costs have ballooned–you think building on land is hard, try doing it riverside, with the tides and the toxic post-industrial conditions–and that is before the matter of buying out local landlords is even broached. Not only do they know the city wants their land, but it is also located in one of the hottest real estate markets in the five boroughs, meaning the acquisition costs have been grossly underestimated. (Funny the city will use eminent domain to build a new arena or office tower, but not a truly public amenity like a park.)
Ms. White had witnessed the open space excitement herself, as she explained in her brief remarks prior to cutting the ribbon. “This is a great example of Mayor Bloomberg’s commitment of opening up these waters to all New Yorkers,” she said. “This park is such a great example, I was out here last week, out here enjoying the view out there, the water and the green space, people playing with their children, their dogs, etcetera. It’s a beautiful, beautiful day here.”
After the event, The Observer wanted to meet the new Parks Commissioner and ask her about the status of the other parks. Ms. White’s press secretary warned, “only on-topic questions.” In non-press speak, that means ask about the ribbon cutting, this park, that’s it. So we did.
“It’s great to have my first ribbon cutting in Brooklyn, because as the borough president mentioned, I am from Bay Ridge,” she said. “It’s great to be out here and open up another of these gorgeous waterfront parks. It‘s a beautiful park.”
So, with a little less than a year-and-a-half left, what’s next? “We have lots of parks in the works, parks take a lot of time, as described here in detail, sometimes in terms of acquisition, sometimes in terms of remediation, and in building and opening the parks up
And there was the opening. Commissioner White had mentioned lots of parks in the works, so how about the ones just to our north and south? “That’s all, we have to go,” the press secretary cut in. As she was pulled away, Ms. White mumbled, “We’re working on it. Each piece is going forward.”
Locals are desperate to have these parks sown up before the mayor leaves office, because once the Bloomberg administration is gone, there is no promise the next mayor will take the same interest in these open spaces. That said, Mr. Levin remains genuinely hopeful.
“Over the last few months, especially since we had the hearing on what was going on with these parks, there’s definitely been an uptick in interest at City Hall, from the mayor’s office,” Mr. Levin said. “I think there’s a real desire to get the rest of this commitment fulfilled.”
It is an important piece of the mayor’s legacy, after all, this return to the water. “I can honestly say, all these parks are the best thing the mayor did,” Emily Nicolson said. She moved down the block eight years ago and used to sneak onto the site when it was just an empty lot. Now she brings her two young children here often, four times she said since the park opened a week earlier.
“Everything else he’s done is up for debate,” Ms. Nicolson continued. “But the parks, and the bike lanes, are pretty great.”