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Stalled $1.5M Upgrade of Park in SoHo Is Back on Track, Officials Say

By Danielle Tcholakian | March 3, 2015 11:50am | Updated on March 3, 2015 4:59pm
 The City Council set aside $1.5 million for Father Fagan Park almost four years ago, but no progress have been made.
Father Fagan Park
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SOHO — Renovations to a small, crumbling park in SoHo may finally be on the horizon, after years of delays.

The Parks Department and the Department of Environmental Protection, which had been battling over the designs for Father Fagan Park, on Sixth Avenue just south of Prince Street, have reached an agreement that will allow work to move forward, a Parks spokeswoman told DNAinfo New York.

The city will unveil the new designs for the park at a Community Board 2 meeting on Wednesday night, the spokeswoman said.

The tiny park received $1.5 million from the City Council four years ago, to plant new trees and replace dead and dying ones, repave the sidewalk, improve lighting, plant flowers and make other changes.

But work stalled after the DEP vetoed the preliminary design plan two years ago, based on concerns about accessing underground utilities beneath the park, including water mains, Tom Adams, a senior project manager at the Parks Department, told Community Board 2's parks committee last week.

The project could not proceed without the DEP's signoff, Adams said, so it has been stuck in limbo for years.

DEP did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

Frustrated residents had urged Parks and DEP to resolve their longstanding dispute after Adams spoke about it at last week's CB2 meeting.

"Two agencies have to have better communication," said Tobi Bergman, chairman of CB2, at the meeting. "It just can't be blamed on DEP because it is a Parks project."

Father Fagan Park, named for a local priest who died after running into a burning church to save two clergymen trapped in the rectory, is currently a small, empty triangle edged with plain wooden benches. A handful of green, rusted garbage cans and a cement drinking fountain are its only amenities. The spindly trees in the park are all either dead or dying, locals say, including three dedicated to firefighters from a local firehouse who burned to death responding to a nearby blaze in 1994.

But locals, including Charlton Street Block Association president Richard Blodgett, remember it as “a nice little park,” and see its potential to be better.

“It used to be, years ago, all the old Italian ladies would sit there. They’re all dead and gone now so it’s become a very different park, but it’s well-used,” said Blodgett, who has pushed for the park's renovation for the past four years.

Residents have also been frustrated with slow progress on other Parks Department renovation projects in the area: DeSalvio Playground in Nolita, Little Red Square at Bleecker Street and Sixth Avenue, and the renovation of the bathrooms at Seravalli Playground on Horatio Street.

Bergman noted Comptroller Scott Stringer’s recent report that found the Parks Department achieves less than a quarter of the projects it sets out to do.

“So it seems we are not alone,” Bergman said. “The Council should be concerned that the funding it has provided for needed improvements is not being spent.”

The Parks Department spokeswoman said the agency has been taking steps to “streamline” and “innovate" since Commissioner Mitchell Silver was appointed last May, including hiring 55 new employees “to help expedite projects.”

The spokeswoman added that DeSalvio Playground is in the final design stage, a design consultant has been selected for Seravalli Playground and final details are being worked out to complete the design for Little Red Square.

Parks will present those details to CB2 next month, the spokeswoman said, and then to the Landmarks Preservation Commission.

Once Parks and DEP agree on a plan for Father Fagan Park, and the community board signs off on it, the design will go before the city's Public Design Commission.