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Hell's Kitchen Man Wants to Memorialize Mom with Renovated Park

By Mathew Katz | June 12, 2013 9:03am
  Mario Mattia hopes to help renovate a park that his deceased mother enjoyed for decades.
39th Street Park Could Get Overhaul
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HELL'S KITCHEN — Growing up in the neighborhood and taking care of his wheelchair-bound mother, Mario Mattia could always count on a West 39th Street Park, just steps from his apartment, as a quiet, peaceful spot for her to enjoy.

The 27-year-old, from an Italian family on the West Side, would spend hours there with his mother, Teresa, who died in September at 51 after battling multiple sclerosis for decades. In the 1990s, the pair would watch birds, plant trees and relax on warm days.

Now, Mattia has joined an effort to revitalize and reopen the shuttered park, and has launched an online fundraising campaign to transform it into a cleaner, modern meeting place for the community, named "Teresa's Park" after his mom.

"My mother, she was a very strong woman, and very vibrant," he said. "She wasn't able to do much, but she would hang out there all the time — it was very relaxing for her. It's great that a park would be in memory of her."

The Port Authority, which owns the land, closed the park four years ago because it was too costly to maintain, and it has since become rundown and overgrown.

Now, Mattia and a handful of community groups led by the Clinton Housing Development Company want to revitalize the tiny space, which is only a few hundred square feet and is surrounded by buses going to and from the Port Authority Bus Terminal.

Mattia's IndieGoGo campaign quickly raised $765 — above its $500 goal — to help the effort, which would add plants, trees, tables, chairs, paving stones and irrigation to the park at West 39th Street and Dyer Avenue, formerly known as Bird Park.

Shanti Nagel, director of community cultivation at the Clinton Housing Development Company, helped create a new design for the park. Nagel hopes the Port Authority will lease the land to the community for a token $1 a year, like it does with the nearby Alice's Garden, and that keys will be made available to the community for a small fee.

The Hell's Kitchen Neighborhood Association also plans to purchase liability insurance that the Port Authority requires.

The lease for the park still needs to be approved by the Port Authority, which did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Nagel has held three community input meetings to refine the design with the help of the nearby Hell's Kitchen Flea Market, along with state Sen. Brad Hoylman's office, and presented a design to Community Board 4 earlier this month.

In addition to Mattia's fundraising efforts, Mark Fisher Fitness next door created its own IndieGoGo campaign in March to solicit money for the park, eventually raising $8,285, surpassing its $2,500 goal.

The redesigned park would feature two sculptures, one donated by resident Vera Lightstone, and a piece of an old slaughterhouse at West 39th Street and 11th Avenue that was saved by the city's Landmarks Preservation Commission.

The eventual work would be carried out by volunteers, who can sign up to help the park on the Cultivate Hell's Kitchen website.

"There's so little green space in this area — what's going on with the 39th Street Park is so exciting," Nagel said.

Mattia said he was confident that the park would become a reality.

"This is a place where my mom was raised — she was here since she was 15," he said. "Just by helping the park alone, it brings out more livelihood and more life for the community."