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Developer Must Clean and Reopen Garbage-Strewn Public Space, City Says

By Heather Holland | April 15, 2014 8:54am | Updated on April 15, 2014 4:51pm
 Owner of Joseph Slifka Park is violating agreement with city by keeping it closed, officials said.
Joseph Slifka Park
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KIPS BAY — A developer shut down a public park and used it as a garbage dump while renovating an adjacent luxury apartment building — and now the Parks Department is calling for the space to be reopened, officials said.

Joseph Slifka Park, an open space with a playground and basketball courts at 34th Street and First Avenue, has been closed for more than a year even though it's required to stay open as part of an agreement between the city and the property's owner, UDR Rivergate LLC, according to Parks Department spokesman Philip Abramson.

"They have a Restrictive Declaration with the City of New York which states that the property is required to be kept open to the public," Abramson said of UDR Rivergate, which also owns the adjacent 706-unit Rivergate apartment tower.

“As the site remains closed and the building restoration work on the adjacent building that necessitated the closure appears to be complete," Abramson continued. "NYC Parks has reached out to the owner to ensure that it is reopened to the public."

The Parks Department wrote a letter to UDR Rivergate on April 2 asking the owner to make good on its promise to reopen the park after completing the facade work that had forced the park to close in the first place, according to the letter.

The developer had promised to complete facade work by August 2013, and no later than December 2013, but the park remained closed months later, the Parks Department said in the letter. 

The agency had not received a response from Rivergate as of Monday, according to a spokeswoman for the Parks Department.

Nearby residents say they've grown fed up after months of watching the formerly vibrant 23,700-square-foot space — which also contains a brick track and a shaded seating area — sit unused and become littered with trash bins, garbage bags and construction debris, including piles of wood, metal and plastic.

“There’s no reason why the park is still closed off from the public,” said Eric Goldberg, 40, who lives in Waterside Plaza. “They use it as a private garbage dump while they renovate the building. I just don’t understand why it hasn’t been brought back online.”

The Department of City Planning, which oversees privately owned public spaces such as Rivergate park, currently lists the park as open on its website.

The City Planning Department referred questions to the Department of Buildings, the agency in charge of enforcing rules for privately owned public spaces. The DOB did not respond to requests for comment.

Rivergate did not respond to a request for comment.

UDR Rivergate bought both the apartment tower and the adjacent park for about $443 million in 2011, property records show. The company began renovating the apartments in 2012, spending nearly $8 million on facade repairs, interior renovations and plumbing work, according to city records,

"Rivergate is going through a transformation," the developer wrote on Rivergate's website. "We are in the midst of a major renovation, complete with new plank flooring, stainless-steel appliances, granite countertops, and new windows with custom roller shades."

Rents at Rivergate range from $2,650 per month for a studio to $8,795 per month for a newly renovated two-bedroom with a terrace and outdoor grills, according to listings on StreetEasy.

A construction worker with Paramount Services Inc. who has been working on the renovations for the past eight months said the contractors have "been using [Joseph Slifka Park] to store garbage" throughout the job.

Even though the park is closed, Rivergate's website still lists the playground as an amenity for building residents.

Joseph Slifka Park opened in 1985, the same year as the Rivergate tower. The building's original developers were able to build an extra 41,000 square feet in return for creating the public park, according to a report by The New York World.

The park originally featured an ice skating rink, but the rink was closed in 1996, and a fitness area and several chess tables were removed then as well, according to a joint project report by the Municipal Art Society of New York and Advocates for Privately-Owned Public Spaces.

Rivergate residents say they have grown frustrated over the past year because they have not received a timeline for when the park will reopen.

“It’s usually a nice park," said 31-year-old Rivergate resident Max Lugavere. "People used to sit there and eat lunch, and kids liked to play on the hoops.”

“If it’s here, it should be opened," he added, "or else it’s just this dead weight."

Editors Note: An earlier version of this story misstated the timing of when the Parks Department contacted the owner of Rivergate about the closed park. The Parks Department contacted Rivergate on April 2, before DNAinfo reached out to the agency regarding the park's closure.