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Roosevelt Island's South Point Park Opens

By Tuan Nguyen | August 2, 2011 4:51pm

ROOSEVELT ISLAND — The picturesque remains of the James Renwick Smallpox Hospital may be off limits to the public, but the city's only landmarked ruins are now the centerpiece of a new park built around it at Roosevelt Island's Southpoint.

The 7.5-acre park opened on Tuesday after years of controversy over what to do with the land.

“For years this space was literally fenced-off and only open one day a year," said City Councilwoman Jessica Lappin, who helped secure $4.5 million for the project. "Now we have reclaimed it and given it back to the public." 

The park features expansive gardens, panoramic waterfront views, the landmarked Streecker Memorial Library and the remains of the hospital designed by Renwick, the architect behind St. Patrick's Cathedral.

Andy Stone, director of the Trust for Public Land's Parks for People-New York City program, said there had been competing plans for the patch of land. 

Proposals to build hotels and buildings in the past had all been rejected until a master plan was accepted in 2004 to “retain the historical character of the site and create a great green open space,” he said.

The Trust for Public Land — a national nonprofit that conserves land for parks, gardens and historic sites — teamed up with the state's Roosevelt Island Operation Corporation to help secure the funding from Lappin's office and $4 million from RIOC's reserves, plus $4 million in other state funds.

“It’s a long time coming,” said Joyce Mincheff, a local resident and president of the Roosevelt Landings Residents Association. She called the park “a blessing” where “people can walk in and enjoy being close to the water.”

“We’re really thrilled," Mincheff added.

Nancy Brown, 69, who wheeled down to the park with her respiratory machine to attend the opening, complimented construction crews for doing “a wonderful job.”

“The kids have a place to climb and to play. For the adults, we have a place to sit, meditate and relax,” she said. “What a view. We have the best view of the city.”

The island will get another park next fall, just to the south of the new one. Construction for that space, called Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park, didn't get off the ground until last year. It was announced in 1973 and designed by late architect Louis Kahn.