2005-11-04 / Front Page

Tribute Park Opens Sunday

By Brian Magoolaghan

Tribute Park, the community’s September 11 memorial set on a stunning slice of reclaimed Rockaway bayfront, is scheduled to open to the public with a ceremony Sunday afternoon, and everyone’s invited.

Chamber of Commerce president John Lepore kept the schedule of events under wraps but told The Wave the upcoming ceremony will be “very dignified and appropriate.” Refreshments provided by the Beach Club will be served at 2 p.m. and the program will start promptly at 2:30.

Beach Channel Drive will be closed to traffic Sunday afternoon from Beach 116 to 119 Streets to accommodate a tent and seating on the roadway outside the park. The podium, planners of the event say, will be on the sidewalk outside the park’s gate. Family members of those who lost their lives in the World Trade Center will be welcomed into the park first at a special moment during the ceremony, Lepore said.

Opening day comes after years of planning and red tape delays followed by an exciting six-month period where progress could be seen at the site each day.

“I think the people are going to be very satisfied with it,” said Park Coordinator Dan Mundy, who added that he has enjoyed the “solitude” of the park but is eager to “turn the keys over to the public.”

Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer this week echoed Mundy’s comments. “People are getting very anxious. The park looks wonderful.”

Indeed the park’s opening has been eagerly awaited by many community members who helped fund the park by purchasing commemorative bricks and plaques and who followed the project’s ups and downs as the irregular sliver of blighted bayfront was transformed into what is arguably the most beautiful and serene public space along Rockaway’s bayfront. For those who were directly involved in planning and construction, opening day marks the end of a long and sometimes trying process – almost. One big ticket item will not be finished in time for the park opening.

“The glass dome of the Tribute Park pavilion will not yet be installed when the park is dedicated and opened to the public this Sunday,” artist Patrick Clark says in a paid announcement in this issue of The Wave.

“It’s a really, really, really big disappointment,” Clark said this week. “I’m really heartbroken about it.”

Clark pointed to a car accident that he was involved in months ago when asked to explain the delay. He said back injuries he sustained have left him unable to work the long days he was accustomed to and that doctor’s appointments and physical therapy take him away from his workshop. He said there were other factors but would not elaborate because, he said, it could detract from what should be “a very special occasion for the families.”

The Wave previously reported that a meeting was held September 1 at the Rockaway office of Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer where the Tribute Park Committee and Clark hammered out a work schedule and negotiated a cost overrun. All parties declined to discuss the specifics at that time, but Lepore said this week that Clark signed an agreement to complete the dome by November 30.

The decision to give Clark more time was not supported by all and there was a degree of grousing this week over the dome. Clark, who rallied in September and early October to finish the firefighter rock and mosaic, says he’s “hoping” to make the end-of-the-month deadline.

Lepore and Mundy both said the park was ready to open despite the dome delay. “No single piece of artwork is bigger than the concept and the emotions behind the park,” said Lepore.

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For a park (and tribute) starting from scratch and filing through a lot of "red tape" (DEP, DEC, city planning), this park is a wonderful compilation of love, dedication and utmost respect for friends and families to share in our community. Delays and changes in design plans does not dim the glimmer of hope we hold in our hearts and fondness that family and friendship brings. While we will always remember what we have lost, we cherish and hold dear what we all have gained.

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