City Unveils Plans for New Astoria Park Pool Performance Space

By Paul DeBenedetto on February 21, 2013 8:36am 

ASTORIA — The city revealed its preliminary plans to transform an unused diving pool in Astoria Park into a new amphitheater-style performance space at a public meeting on Wednesday.

The diving pool basin will be paved over with concrete and lined with multi-shaded pavers in a pattern that would give the illusion of water, in order to pay homage to the space's former use, Parks Department officials said at the meeting, which was held in conjunction with Community Board 1 in the Astoria World Manor at 25-22 Astoria Blvd.

The plan would also restore some of the historic aspects of the pool, including the iconic diving board, flagpoles and cast-bronze railing that surrounds the pool, and turn the diving pool's main entrance into a dual amphitheater entrance split by a concession wall and an illuminated sign, according to the Parks Department's presentation.

"You walk through that gate, and you immediately realize you're in a special place," Parks official Kevin Quinn said. 

The new space is estimated to cost $4.3 million, and will initially accommodate a capacity of 500 people, though the space could ultimately fit 2,500, officials said. 

The 32-foot-high platform at the Olympic-sized diving pool was built in 1936 by developer Robert Moses but has gone unused for several decades, according to the Parks Department. The pool complex was used for swimming and diving trials by United States Olympic teams in 1936 and 1964, and in 2006 it was designated a city landmark, according to the department's website.

The plans would ultimately need to be approved by the Landmarks Preservation Committee before moving forward. Pending that approval, construction would begin in about a year and a half, Quinn said.

While most of the people in attendance at the meeting praised the plan, some in attendance expressed concerns about aspects of the plan— including a wall separating the performance space from the pool that only stands four feet tall.

With Parks Department officials acknowledging that performances would likely sometimes occur while the pool was open, critics said the noise and commotion from the pool would create a distraction.

"A four-foot fence on the north side is not going to cut it when you have a performance going on, actors doing their thing, if there happens to be people in the pool area interacting with the performance and disturbing it," said George L. Stamatiades, president of the Central Astoria Local Development Coalition, who was otherwise supportive of the plan.

Representatives from local arts organizations also questioned the plan for not making it easy enough for small local groups to perform. The plan does not include a stage, and some at the meeting said renting out a stage for performances would be cost prohibitive.

The plan also doesn't call for any kind of canopy for bad weather, something people in the audience deemed necessary so equipment wouldn't get damaged by the rain.

"You're going to limit the amount of entertainers that are willing to perform," said Arlene Fama, 55, an Astoria resident who works in finance.

One of the biggest sticking points came when the Parks Department announced they wouldn't be building new bathrooms in the first phase of the plan, but would instead provide portable bathrooms for concert-goers.

"You need bathrooms, bottom line," said Anthony Leporati, 47. "At least handicap bathrooms."

The entire space would be made compliant with the Americans With Disabilities Act upon completion, Parks Department officials said. But creating new bathrooms would just be too costly in the first round of designs, Quinn said.

"It's either we have a bunch of restrooms with no reason for being there, or we have the stage [area] with no restrooms," Quinn said. "We can't do both. It's an either/or."

But for most in attendance, the opportunity to turn an unused section of the park into an attraction was a welcome proposition. City Councilman Peter Vallone, Jr., who made brief opening remarks before leaving the meeting, called the new plan "maybe the most beautiful in New York," and said that the space has been long overdue for a makeover.

"We've been looking at this for decades, maybe eons," Vallone joked. "That's how long it seems since the diving pool has been allowed to deteriorate."

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