Parks Dept. Responds To Rockaway's Renaissance
The Department of Parks and Recreation has appointed a veteran administrator with more than a quarter century of experience to oversee the Rockaways, a significant move that comes in response to the ongoing building boom and population surge here.
Jill Weber, whose Parks career spans 26 years, was recently appointed by Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe and assumed her post as Rockaway's first-ever parks administrator on July 17. A graduate of SUNY Buffalo, Weber holds a Bachelor of Science in Environmental Science. She worked under two other parks administrators and spent the last 12 years developing the Parks Opportunity Program, a welfare-to-work program.
"We are proud that the Rockaways has joined the likes of Central Park and Prospect Park with the appointment of its new parks administrator," Benepe said, naming two other areas that can also boast their own administrator. "Jill Weber brings a wealth of experience and knowledge to the position and we're excited to be able to provide more programming and resources to the Rockaways' vibrant and growing community."
Parks spokesperson Abby Lootens said Parks' move was "prompted by the rapid growth on the peninsula, thousands of new residents, new retail businesses and new parkland coming to the Rockaways."
Weber is now responsible for planning, programming, resource development and the overall operations of five parks, 22 playgrounds, seven and a half miles of city beach, six miles of boardwalk and promenade, two "Forever Wild" sites and about 80 Greenstreets locations in Rockaway and Broad Channel, but she says she's not overwhelmed - she's excited by the opportunities. The Wave sat down with Weber this week in her freshly-painted office on Beach 86 Street and the boardwalk, as she took a break from answering letters from local residents.
"It's a mix of white and Parks green," Weber joked, describing the light-green shade that was rolled out on the walls of the 12-foot x 20-foot former storage area. She also has designs on converting another area into a conference room, where she can host meetings, she said.
For the past month, Weber has been touring the various sites that now fall under her supervision and has been meeting key community members, including Community Board 14 members and local elected officials.
CB14 District Manager said Weber's appointment "could be a really positive thing" for Rockaway and described Weber as "affable" and responsive in early talks on park issues.
And, while Weber's been out "getting to know the key players," she says she isn't exactly a stranger to Rockaway. Raised in Brooklyn, Weber used to bicycle with friends to the beach in Neponsit. Her mother, aunts and uncles have been recalling fond Rockaway memories since she got her new job, she said.
"It's kind of like a homecoming," said Weber, who now lives in Oceanside and is a mother of three.
"I feel like I'm getting in here at the right time, when there's a lot about to happen," said Weber, who credited other Parks employees and community members for their contributions to date. "You don't know that there's such a renaissance until you come out here and look," she said.
In her first month in her new position, Weber has been to meetings on the Flight 587 Memorial that is being built on Beach 116 Street, met with a representative from a company that makes handicap beach access ramps and got acquainted with Stoked Mentoring's surfing program that teaches inner city kids how to ride the waves. She also met with the supplier of new plantings for Tribute Park and has been very hands-on there.
"She's been on-site, making sure things are done well," said Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Joanie Omeste who said Weber is "perfect" for the job. That work comes just in time for Sunset in the Park, a fundraiser at Tribute Park on Thursday, August 24. "I think it's great that Parks saw the need in Rockaway [for an administrator] and addressed it," Omeste added.
Weber has also been eyeing a number of smaller improvements like the adopt-a-bench program and the purchase of safety gear that can be loaned to kids using the Rockaway Skate Park - an idea she thought of after seeing kids who couldn't use the park for lack of equipment skating around right outside the park.
Weber seemed excited about expanding the Stoked surfing program, bringing more beach volleyball and the idea of sponsored tournaments in that sport and handball. She's also looking into fundraising and promoting Parks events in this newspaper and by possibly creating a webpage and an events hotline, she said.
There's a couple of major projects that are either being considered or planned, including miniature golf on Shore Front Parkway, parks that are part of the Arverne East project, a dog run, and additional shops along the boardwalk.
Weber said a big part of getting settled in is meeting community members who have an interest in parks, and she asked that we print her e-mail and telephone number: Jill.Weber@ Parks.NYC.Gov and (718) 318-4000.
"I'm here to work with the community," said Weber. "I'm looking at what we [already] have and what the community wants," she said.