For Queens residents who love the outdoors, it was a special night last Wednesday at Bohemian Hall and Beer Garden as city park officials provided a glimpse into new design plans for Astoria Park.
Members of the community were loud and for the most part happy, as they gathered around tables with representatives of the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation to share ideas and concerns for upcoming renovations to Astoria Park.
This was the third community-engagement meeting held since Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that Astoria Park was one of the five parks chosen for the city’s new Anchor Parks Program.
The program which was announced and launched in August 2016 chose five parks, one from each borough, to receive $30 million in funding to renovate and reconstruct.
During the meeting, Phase 1 of the renovation plans were presented to the entire gathering before the meeting was broken up into smaller groups.
The first phase will focus on reconstructing the track and field area of the park. Renovations will include a new synthetic turf soccer field, improvements to the running track, new adult fitness equipment and erosion control measures.
Although most residents seemed excited about the changes there was some tension during the presentation. One resident stood up and said he opposed the design plans and asked the crowd how many people use the track and field. Many raised their hands. The gentleman then proceeded to shout at the crowd, which caused an eruption of chatter and arguments.
Dori Cocoros, a local resident, has been coming to the park for years. She said she understands others may have different visions for the park but that large disruptions don’t help anyone. She feels that small-group discussions are more productive.
“I grew up in Astoria and I have been coming to park since I was knee-high to a grasshopper,” said Cocoros. “When people are around tables they’re working as a community, and I think there is a feeling that everybody is involved.”
Many parks were considered for the program, according to Queens Park Commissioner Dorothy Lewandowski, and the city took a close look at which parks had a lot of public interest but also hadn’t seen improvements in years.
Astoria Park is one of the largest park in Queens, covering 60 acres, and containing a pool, tennis courts and multiple trails. It also has not seen a full-scale renovation since the 1930’s according to New York City Council Member Costa Constantinides.
Constantinides, who represents Astoria, said his office worked very hard to get Astoria Park chosen and is thankful that the mayor and Parks Commissioner Mitchell Silver identified that the park was in need.
“We worked with the mayor’s office diligently and we advocated,” said Constantinides. “And I’ll give Mayor De Blasio and Commissioner Silver a huge amount of credit here for recognizing the beauty of Astoria Park and what it means for our community and Western Queens.”
Beth Minor-Peterson is one resident who is happy with the proposed designs. Astoria Park, she said, “always seemed kind of run down since we’ve lived here. I go and I run in the park so I really like that they’re focusing on the track,” she said. “I think it will look nicer which will be more welcoming and maybe will make people want to use it more.”
Paul Collins, another resident had similar feelings. “I’m very excited, it’s a big gift, not every park got this, and it sounds like the Parks Department really listened during our last session.”
Collins is also a member of the Astoria Park Alliance, a local volunteer group that advocates for sustainability and conservation efforts within the park.
According to Doug Monaco, the communications director for the Alliance, the group is happy with the plans for Phase 1 but feel that new bathrooms should be a top priority, as they have not been upgraded in quite some time.
Another concern among members of the community was maintenance. Cocoros said she worries about how much money will be delegated toward the upkeep of the park, once construction projects are finished.
Monaco had similar concerns but said he is not too worried, due to the Alliance keeping watch over the park and providing volunteer assistance when necessary. “We’re aware that the $30 million is only for capital and not for maintenance and so we’re aware that that’s a separate issue,” said Monaco. “But since we have the Alliance in place that helps with any gaps in coverage.”
Commissioner Lewandowski said once the projects are complete the New York City Office of Management and Budget will determine what sort of investment should be made for park maintenance. But having local volunteers will also greatly help. “Really it’s about working with the community and volunteers,” said Lewandowski. “And there is a such a strong community here who loves their park that it shouldn’t be a problem.”
In a city coined “the concrete jungle” it was clear from the enthusiasm of residents how important local parks are. “New York is a massive metropolis and sometimes you can walk for what feels like miles and not really see a park or anything,” said David Fries, an Astoria resident. “I think it’s so important for New York having space outside.”
Collins agreed. “It’s crucial for emotional, mental and physical health to have spaces for recreation and congregation,” he said. “It’s a nexus and sort of like the backyard of the community.”
The Parks Department will be presenting the Phase 1 design plans to Community Board One in March for approval and the entire renovation project is expected to be completed by 2020.