2013-03-06 / Front Page

City Parks Department Acquires New Parkland

The city Department of Parks and Recreation (DOP) and the Department of Citywide Administrative Services (DCAS) have completed the acquisition of a 24,600-square-foot asphalt play yard owned by the Garden School, 33-16 79th St., Jackson Heights.   
The purchase price of $6 million was provided through allocations of $4 million from Councilmember Daniel Dromm, $1 million from Queens Borough President Helen Marshall, and $1 million from the Mayor’s Fund to Advance New York City.  The highly anticipated acquisition was also made possible by the city’s Law Department and loan entities J. M. Kaplan Fund and the Fund for the City of New York. Dromm also secured an additional $1.2 million for renovations.  
“Jackson Heights is one of the most densely populated and diverse neighborhoods in New York City, and one most in need of parkland for its community,” said city Department of Parks and Recreation Commissioner Veronica M. White. “The additional acreage for Travers Park will provide greatly needed recreational opportunities for Jackson Heights residents.”
The agreement with the Garden School, an independent pre-kindergarten through 12th grade school, furthers the city’s goal of working in innovative ways to expand access to neighborhood open spaces.  This is the first time the city has made such an arrangement with a private school. The public school model includes the highly acclaimed “Schoolyards to Playgrounds” program, launched in 2007 as part of the Bloomberg Administration’s PlaNYC initiative, which opens up school playgrounds for public use after school hours.  At present, 229 Schoolyards to Playgrounds sites have been opened to the public through this initiative. 
“This transaction optimizes the use of city land for maximum benefit to the community, and DCAS was proud to be a part of this effort,” said DCAS Commissioner Edna Wells Handy.  “It was a pleasure to work with Deputy Mayors Cas Holloway and Howard Wolfson, the Garden School and NYC Parks to boost the city’s PlaNYC initiative.”
“We are pleased to announce the sale of the field to the city of New York,” said Arthur Gruen, President of the Board of Trustees, and Garden School Headmaster Richard Marotta. “Working with the city was terrific.  Special thanks to Deputy Mayor Howard Wolfson, Councilmember Danny Dromm, Parks and DCAS.  We are very pleased to join with our community in establishing this permanent open space for our Garden School family and for all of our neighbors.”
“The acquisition of this land dramatically increases the inventory of much needed open space in Jackson Heights in an area with many multiple dwellings,” said Marshall.  “This need for open space is recognized by the community and local officials. That is why I supported this effort with $1 million in discretionary funding. And now, I look forward to seeing the new recreational opportunities this land will provide for a growing community.”
“Every New Yorker should have access to adequate parks and recreational opportunities,” said Dromm (D-Jackson Heights, Elmhurst).  “The purchase of the Garden School athletic field means that a park-starved community like Jackson Heights will get to preserve precious open space and have the opportunity to almost double the size of the neighboring Travis Park.” Dromm also thanked and commended Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Wolfson, DOP Queens Borough Commissioner Dorothy Lewandowski, Marshall, Marotta, the Garden School board members, the Jackson Heights Green Alliance and the Jackson Heights Beautification Group and the Friends of Travers Park for their commitment to the neighborhood and their extraordinary effort in making this deal come to fruition.  He added, “The residents of Jackson Heights deserve this.”
“With a bridge loan to the Garden School, we saw an opportunity to address all the Kaplan Fund’s signature issues—improving livability in an historic neighborhood serving thousands of immigrant families.  As the one small, open space serving much of Jackson Heights, Travers Park is the quintessential New York City park—known to host simultaneous cricket, basketball, and tennis games alongside yoga and tai chi, while serving families, teens and all demographics.  With the Garden School acquisition, park-starved Jackson Heights will enjoy a substantial increase in open space, and we are pleased to have played a role in making it happen,” said J. M. Kaplan Fund Chair Peter Davidson.  
The site will be available for public use outside school hours, including weekends and summer months, with the ball field permitted for use at these times for baseball or softball leagues.  As part of the acquisition by the city, the Garden School is being given a five-year lease agreement from the city through DCAS for the exclusive use of the property during the school year between the school hours of 8 a.m. and 4 p.m.  DOP will manage the site as a public park at all other times. 
The parcel will continue to serve as paved play area for active recreation use and effectively expands Thomas J. Travers Park, which is located to the west, across from 78th Street.   
As part of the city’s acquisition of the proposed project site, appropriate measures are being taken to make the site available for public access.  The DOP plans to install a property line fence to separate the area being acquired by the city from the remaining Garden School property.  The play area would be accessible to the public from 78th and 79th Streets.  A final design for the play yard will now be developed.  The Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP) and environmental review for the site selection and acquisition of the site were completed last year and the City Planning Commission issued final approval last September.  Michael Wasser, Assistant Corporation Counsel for the city Law Department, assisted on the closing.

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