Although a $2.5 million plan to repair Fort Greene Park’s Willoughby Avenue entrance – facing a drainage problem and cracked steps – is fully funded by city lawmakers, the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation has stalled in beginning the project.
It has been more than five years since Parks Department representatives walked around the park with Community District 2 Manager Robert Perris and Public Advocate Letitia James to discuss the problems at the Willoughby entrance, we reported in May. And about a year ago, Parks officials ceremoniously unveiled the design for the renovated entrance, announcing that the work would begin in fall 2013, according to Charles Jarden, the chairman of the Fort Greene Park Conservancy.
“There were a couple start dates that have come and gone,” he said.The Willoughby entrance had not been repaired since the park was first constructed in 1847, according to Jarden. Wear-and-tear at all eight of the park’s entrances has left them in need of repair, but the Willoughby entrance – at one of the park’s more topographically steep areas – has consistently been neglected, he noted.
“The very steep side of the park from the visitor’s center straight down to Washington Park – it has eroded over the dozens of years,” Jarden said. “The drain pipes are crushed, those have been collapsed and there have been some trees down.”
Other sides of the park were updated more recently with bump-outs – also known as curb extensions – created to provide more sidewalk space, according to Jarden. The Willoughby entrance is on the Parks Department’s radar, according to Meghan Lalor, a department spokeswoman.
“We are moving forward with the reconstruction of the Willoughby Avenue entrance of Fort Greene Park,” Lalor said. “The project is currently in the procurement phase.”
The repairs at the Willoughby entrance would include adding sustainable drainage structures as well as extensive ground-cover and shrubs to help reduce runoff, reconstructing all paths near the entrance and adding a disability-accessible ramp, according to Lalor. But Lalor did not provide a specific time that the reconstruction is expected to begin.
The New York City Council, the mayor’s office and the Brooklyn Borough President’s office provided the funding for the project, Jarden said. The Fort Greene Parks Conservancy also received an additional $300,000 to go toward additions to the parks department’s reconstruction efforts and repairs to the perimeter of the park wall near the Willoughby entrance. “The Conservancy’s $300,000 is from a federal grant, funding that Parks can’t go after, but we can,” Jarden said.
The parks department, strapped by budget cuts, typically gives most of its attention and funding to “flagship parks,” such as Central Park and Prospect Park, according to Jarden.
“They have basically a contract with the parks department that allows them to participate in projects like this,” he said. ” [Fort Greene Park] has these unusual features – and the parks department, with all if its duties in parks in Brooklyn, it can’t possibly take care of it. That’ s where these private-public partnerships come in, and we’re happy to step into these shoes.”
During the summer, with approval from the parks department and $60,000 funds contributed by local tennis players, the Fort Greene Tennis Association hired a private contractor to resurface Fort Greene Park’s sinking and cracked tennis courts.
But when it comes to the Willoughby entrance, although the Conservancy was able to push for the additional $300,ooo in federal funding, the restoration must be completed by the city, “as it is a historically sensitive job, dealing with important architecture,” Jarden said.
But he noted that the parks department has not recently reached out to the Conservancy about the reconstruction.
“They have had some personnel changes,” Jarden said. “It seems they probably have so much change on their hands. They’re being very quiet to us about this particular project.”