'Stroller Center' Will Replace Basketball Court at New Hell's Kitchen Park

By Mathew Katz on May 13, 2013 7:15am | Updated on May 13, 2013 10:16am

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 The redesigned Ramon Aponte Park will not have a basketball court, despite pleas from local teens.
Ramon Aponte Park
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HELL'S KITCHEN — A popular park will soon be courting more kids than Carmelo Anthonys.

Parks Department officials plan to replace a controversial basketball court in Hell's Kitchen's Ramon Aponte Park with a swing set — with the goal of transforming the park on West 47th Street between Eighth and Ninth avenues into a kid-friendly haven.

The basketball court is popular with teens, but local parents have long complained that it's a hot spot for fights and drugs.

After coming to Community Board 4 twice over the past year, the Parks Department decided to scrap both a plan to renovate the basketball court and a proposal to install a turf field, despite protests from sports-loving teens.

"The AstroTurf field was rejected by the local block association, so swings, swings seem to be the way everyone wanted us to go," said Parks Department designer Chris Crowley in a presentation to Community Board 4 members.

"So we've got a playground. With swings."

The new design will feature a playground, circular seating and 10 new trees, along with a new spray shower for use during the warmer months.

The board members largely applauded the park's new design, though new member Brad Pascarella questioned the shift to a child-focused playground.

"It was an all-generation park, now it seems to be an all-kids park," he said. "It's a stroller center."

But Crowley countered that the community board made it clear after its October meeting that it wanted the basketball court to go, largely because of issues with the teens who used it.

"There's nothing in here for teenagers," he acknowledged.

Board members also took issue with the design's treatment of rainwater, which would flow into the nearby sewer system instead of being absorbed into the ground under the plan. On the whole, however, the board approved the design.

Larry Roberts, a board member who is also president of the Midtown North Precinct Community Council and fought against keeping the court, largely liked the proposal.

"I think the parents — the majority anyway — will be very pleased," he said.

Elke Fears of the West 47th/48th Block Association, said there is a demand for more kid-friendly space in the neighborhood, especially considering how crowded with tots nearby Hell's Kitchen Park gets on a regular basis.

Attempting to counter the department's kid-centric approach, Pascarella suggested a turf field with a goal post could be a good alternative for sports-playing teens.

"The teens want to come to the park, and we're going to put them in the street?" Pascarella asked. "I don't think the teens are here to speak for themselves."

The Parks Department plans to submit its current plan to the Public Design Commission in June, with construction expected to begin in March 2014. If all goes well, the park should reopen a year later.

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