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Lawmaker Eyes Massive East River Esplanade Expansion

By Gustavo Solis | February 5, 2015 1:53pm
  New report outlines long-term and short-term improvements for the waterfront park.
East River Esplanade
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EAST HARLEM — A state lawmaker wants to transform the East River Esplanade into a waterfront park that rivals any other in New York City.

But the first step is to keep the decaying infrastructure from falling into the East River.

State Assemblyman Robert Rodriguez released “A Tale of Two Rivers” report Wednesday. The report states that while waterfront parks downtown and on the west side have been developed into popular destinations, East Harlem has been consistently ignored.

“The walking and biking path is in disrepair, with sections of the thin path crumbling into the river below,” the report says. “Holes in the path have been boarded over with plywood, fencing has decayed, and many of the benches have been rendered unusable.”

In the report, Rodriguez outlines short-term and long-term improvements for the waterfront park between 60th and 125th streets.

“What we are proposing is so much more substantial and not just fixing but really enhancing the promenade and make it as attractive as Riverside Park or the Highline,” Rodriguez said. “I believe it has the potential to have that kind of effect.”

Immediate actions include renovating the 107th Street Pier, replacing the benches and helping revitalize the area with community programing and attracting local vendors.

Rodriguez then suggests setting up an East River Esplanade Trust — similar to the Hudson River Park Trust — to advocate for the development of the area, according to the report.

Among the long-term goals is building a deck over the FDR that turns the esplanade into a massive park that connects the waterfront to Thomas Jefferson Park.

Funding for the projects should come from a combination of public and private funds, according to the report.

Rodriguez’s study comes less than a year after the city’s executive budget allocated $35 million for the East River Esplanade.

When lobbying for the funds, Councilman Ben Kallos cited a 2013 study by the Parks Department that said the wooden pilings under the esplanade need to be replaced by concrete supports. The department estimated the project would cost $115 million over the next 10 years.

“We have an opportunity to do more than just fix the holes in the esplanade but change it dramatically,” the assemblyman said.