Rockaway Shines As Tribute Park Opens
Hundreds turned out last Sunday afternoon as Mayor Michael Bloomberg officially led the ceremony welcoming family members of those who died on September 11 and the public at large into Tribute Park for the first time.
Project coordinator Dan Mundy, who was widely credited for his work, managed the highlights of the ceremony – including the County Tyrone Pipers, family member procession, flag-raising, FDNY fireboat water display, NYPD helicopter flyover and the release of doves – down to the last detail.
“I’m overwhelmed with the beauty and the thought and everything that went into this,” said Madeline Belson Brandstadter, who lost her firefighter son, Steve Belson, in the terrorist attacks and was seeing Tribute Park for the first time.
Chamber of Commerce President John Lepore, who shouldered ultimate responsibility for the park through years of frustrating delays and exciting progress, recalled the “rediscovery” of the site five years ago in a speech that gave much recognition to those who made contributions.
“Our long journey of building the park is now over and we can all begin to enjoy its beauty and serenity,” Lepore said.
Bloomberg, sprinting to the peninsula after New York City Marathon duties, called Rockaway “a perfect place for Tribute Park as 75 members of this community gave their lives on September 11 – more than any other neighborhood in the city.
“Today we dedicate a beautiful memorial park to honor those we lost,” Bloomberg told the assembled crowd that took up most of Beach Channel Drive between Beach 116 and 117 Streets.
Department of Parks and Recreation Commissioner Adrian Benepe told another part of the story: “On this site overlooking Jamaica Bay, area residents gathered to watch the tragedy unfold in Lower Manhattan,” he said in a prepared statement. “Four years later, we recognize the significance of the important role this site played, and honor those who gave their lives through the creation of Tribute Park.”
Artist Patrick Clark received the heartiest applause for his work at the site, which appeared to be universally well-received; visitors used pencil and paper to make rubbings of the names etched in the firefighter tribute rock and placed white roses on the tiled mariner’s compass. A red, white and blue wreath hung on the park’s dome, which attracted many visitors. Rather than seeming unfinished, the dome held out the promise of continued growth at the park. The Chamber is considering the sale of additional commemorative bricks and the formation of an oversight committee for the park.
Park Committee Chair and Community Board 14 District Manager Jonathan Gaska remarked on Mother Nature’s cooperation, which was not far from organizer’s minds. Morning fog gave way to sunny skies, and the wind, which can be relentless in that spot, remained calm until after the ceremony was finished and the sun was low on the horizon.
See Pages 68 and 69 for
color photos of Tribute Park.