Fort Totten Visitors' Center Opens With Ribbon Cutting
By Dan Miller
On Friday, March 14, New York City Parks and Recreation Commissioner Adrian Benepe was joined by Queens Borough President Helen Marshall, City Councilmember Tony Avella, state Senators Frank Padavan Toby Stavisky, fourth-grade students from P.S. 209 and Fort Totten Park Rangers to cut the ribbon for the opening of the newly renovated $1.3 million Visitors' Center at Fort Totten in Bayside.
“From military weapon storage site to shoe repair facility to Visitors Center for a public park, this building’s historic legacy lives on,” Benepe, who served as the moderator for this special event, said, “Thanks to funding from Mayor [Michael] Bloomberg and Queens Borough President Helen Marshall, Parks was able to reconstruct the Fort Totten Visitors' Center and make it ADA-accessible and more user-friendly. We look forward to hosting educational displays about the park’s history and environmental significance for Queens residents and visitors to enjoy.” Benepe added that he and Queens Parks Commissioner Dorothy Lewandowski were Park Rangers together a number of years ago.
The Parks Department renovated the historic building with $850,000 in funding allocated by Marshall and $450,000 allocated by Bloomberg. The new visitors’ center was used for military storage in the early 1900s and as a shoe repair facility in the 1940s. Renovations include an ADA-accessible entrance way and ADA-compliant comfort station and fixtures, a new roof, new exterior paving and interior configuration with room for museum displays which highlight the renovations.
Marshall said, “I am happy to support this project, which is a centerpiece of the historic Fort Totten rebirth that will benefit and provide enjoyment for generations of visitors.”
The renovation of the Visitors' Center at Fort Totten Park is another major element in the conversion of the Civil War fortress and Army base into a beautiful 50-acre park. Fort Totten was acquired as part of the Federal Lands to Parks Program and was opened to the public as a park by Mayor Bloomberg on June 13, 2005, making it Queens’ first major new park to open in decades. In the summer of 2007, Fort Totten Pool, formerly operated by the YMCA, was opened to the public. Padavan who was at one time stationed with the Army Corps of Engineers at Fort Totten, said, “I never thought we would get to this stage of the project in my lifetime, but we have.”
Stavisky acknowledged the neighbors from the Bay Terrace Community Alliance. “This to me is a good example what happens when government works together with the community,” she said about the completed project and the cooperation among the Parks Department and the residents and the organizations of the local community surrounding Fort Totten.
The Fort Totten Visitors' Center will serve as a museum for park visitors to learn about Fort Totten’s historical as well as environmental significance. The museum display, which will be expanded in the future, currently includes two Civil War replica uniforms, replica artillery, and maps of the fort. The Visitors' Center building will be home to a group of the Parks Department Urban Park Rangers, who will offer tours of Fort Totten as well as other educational programs from the renovated building.
During the past five years, the Department of Parks & Recreation has spent more than $164 million for Queens park improvements, adding more than 80 acres of parkland and the largest recreational facility in any city park. Currently, the department is in the midst of a major initiative to improve parks throughout Queens, with 25 projects costing $66 million under construction, and another 57 projects costing $72 million currently in design or procurement. In addition, under Bloomberg’s PlaNYC initiative to develop the sustainable growth of New York City by the year 2030, $82 million has been allocated to develop Highland and Rockaway Parks into Queens’ next great, regional parks.