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Parks Department Unveils Plans to Convert Asser Levy Place into New Park

By Mary Johnson | October 5, 2012 9:14am

KIPS BAY — Residents on Manhattan's East Side can expect a new park come December of 2013, if all goes according to plans the Parks Department presented to members of Community Board 6 this week.

The plans, which have yet to be approved, mapped out a variety of amenities that could one day populate Asser Levy Place, a two-block stretch of road that runs parallel to the FDR Drive between East 23rd and 25th streets.

Concrete Ping-Pong and other gaming tables would join a track — smaller than regulation size — and field for soccer, Frisbee or yoga. Outdoor exercise equipment would be set up across from the Asser Levy Recreation Center, and portions of the concrete would be painted with children's games, such as hopscotch.

The amenity-filled park is a drastic improvement over the initial plans the Parks Department laid out for the space earlier this year, back when there was just $500,000 allotted to convert the street into a play space.

The Parks Department intended to use that $500,000 to make minimal additions that would have done little more than block the street off to traffic, community board members said.

Backlash from residents and community board members made its way to City Councilman Daniel Garodnick, who allocated an additional $1 million in city funding to the conversion project to make the total budget for building the park $1.5 million.

“The initial designs were bare bones, and we wanted to make sure that this area is transformed in a vibrant and exciting way,” Garodnick said in an interview. “I think that this wIll be very well received by the community and give more active play areas in a community board that needs them.”

The new park at Asser Levy Place is meant to replace the western portion of Robert Moses Playground, which the city agreed to sell to the United Nations, if they’re interested, as part of a complicated deal that officials hope will one day finance the creation of an esplanade along the East River from East 38th to East 60th streets.

So far, Robert Moses Playground is still open to the public as a playground, and the UN, which sits just to its north, has not made a decision on whether to purchase the plot of land. But elected officials have promised that the city would move forward with converting Asser Levy Place into a park regardless of what the United Nations decides to do.

As part of the preliminary design plans presented to Community Board 6 this week, Parks Department officials said they are hoping to secure the necessary approvals so that the park can open to the public by December of 2013.

In addition to the gaming amenities, the plans include elevating the roadway and adding a variety of trees and plant life, in part to drown out traffic noise from nearby streets and the FDR Drive.

The new space would be too narrow to accommodate the hockey club that currently plays at Robert Moses Playground, but parks department representatives said those players can be accommodated at St. Vartan Park on First Avenue and East 35th Street.

For now, however, Asser Levy Place is still an active street, and parks representatives said it will not be closed to traffic until just before construction begins.  

That is still months away. The preliminary design plans must pass through the city’s Public Design Commission before the procurement process can begin. Then construction is expected to take roughly four to six months.  

Although a vote was not taken at the committee meeting, the plans seemed to meet with approval from those in attendance.

“It’s a great improvement over what we had been worried about a couple months ago,” said Gary Papush, chair of the CB6 parks committee.

Board Chair Mark Thompson agreed, noting that both the committee and the full board will vote on the proposed design at the full board meeting scheduled for Oct. 10.

“We’re very happy that we were able to work closely with the Parks Department, providing them with the elements of the proposed park that are important to the community,” Thompson said. “Parks responded well to our input and has created an initial plan that seems to meet our needs.”