By Jill Colvin
CENTRAL PARK — One of Central Park's most popular lookout points is set to close mid-summer so the park's Conservancy can spend $1.6 million on re-paving and landscape work.
The Cherry Hill plaza, which features a small Victorian fountain at its center, sits just west of the park's iconic Bethesda Fountain, overlooking the lake.
The plaza was originally designed as a spot for carriage horses to stop for a drink, and is now a popular meeting point for tourists and a frequent stop on pedicab and horse-drawn carriage tours.
But the Conservancy wants to overhaul the plaza's floor design, which features concentric circles of raised red brickwork encircling an asphalt roadway.
The $1.6 million redesign plan would level the plaza and resurface it with gray stone meant to resemble the plaza's original gravel surface. The plan also calls for new landscaping and additional seating.
Because of the different surfaces, pedicab and carriage drivers tend to crowd the brick pathway, Lane Addonizio, associate vice president for planning at the Park Conservancy, said.
"There's a lot of ups and downs and it really emphasizes the roadway," said Addonizio of the early '80s design. "The idea is to have more of a sense of enclosure by the greenery, more of a view of the lake."
The project is part of a larger $50 million restoration effort being funded half by the conservancy and half by the Parks Department.
Despite its budget troubles — the department says serious cutbacks will force it to boost fees for permits — the Parks Department has said it wants to make Cherry Hill into "more of a destination," and has put out a call for proposals for a new Victorian food cart for the plaza.
The proposal is set to go before the Public Design Commission in May, with a ground-breaking expected by early July.
During the estimated four to six month construction period, the plaza would be closed.
But many in the park Tuesday were skeptical about the plan.
"I like it the way it is," said pedicab driver Ron LePage, 38. "Some things I think they should keep."
Upper West Sider Andrea Murnan, 33, agreed.
"I don't think that's necessary," said Murnan as she walked her dog through the plaza.
She said that if the conservancy wants to improve the area, they should close the roadway and add new tables and more chairs.
"I think they're just over-analyzing it," she said. "It's pretty the way it is."
David Neve, 49, visiting from upstate for the first time, said he was shocked to hear that the park would be spending money like that.
"They could spend it other ways, help out the homeless or clean up the streets," he said. "It's just perfect the way it is."
But Paul Krummenauer, 45, a horse-drawn carriage driver who has been taking tourists through the plaza for more than a decade, said he loved the idea of being free to roam wherever he liked.
"It would be great to give the horses some water. It would be like going back like it was originally built, like it was in history," he said.
"It makes sense," agreed fellow driver Luiz Pinto, 46, another long-time carriage driver. "It's going to give more room to maneuver," he said.