2007-03-02 / Front Page

NPS Launches Design Contest

By Howard Schwach

By Howard Schwach

A site map of Floyd Bennett Field in Brooklyn, a former municipal and Navy airfield. The unused aviation complex will become the centerpiece for the renovated national park.A site map of Floyd Bennett Field in Brooklyn, a former municipal and Navy airfield. The unused aviation complex will become the centerpiece for the renovated national park. If a few major foundations have their way, Gateway National Recreation Area, which shares lots of land with the Rockaway peninsula, may be heading for a major renovation that would transform it into a resource for both the region and the world.

"Envisioning Gateway," an international public design competition for the 26,600-acre park, which encompasses Riis Park, Fort Tilden, The Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge, Floyd Bennett Field (Brooklyn), Great Kills (Staten Island) and Sandy Hook (New Jersey), was launched in late January with $500,000 donated by the Tiffany & Co. Foundation. The competition will be run and monitored by the National Park Conservation Association and the Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation at Columbia University.

"Gateway is New York City's greatest unrealized asset, and what Olmstead did for Central Park, we are hoping to inspire for Gateway," said the conservation association's Regional Director Alexander Brash. "Now is the time to re-envision Gateway as a great national park."

Youngsters skate at the new Aviator Sports complex at Floyd Bennett Field, a facility used by many Rockaway residents. Youngsters skate at the new Aviator Sports complex at Floyd Bennett Field, a facility used by many Rockaway residents. The focus of the competition will be two-fold, a spokesperson said. The first will be to consider Gateway on a regional scale. The second is to propose a redesign for Floyd Bennett Field relative to its position within the Jamaica Bay Unit of Gateway, including the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge, Riis Park and Fort Tilden.

The project directors envision architects, landscape designers, ecologists, planners and urban designers becoming involved with the project.

Those interested in submitting proposals must register on line at www.vanalen.org/gateway . The registration deadline is March 14. The deadline for submission of completed projects is set for May 7, and the awards ceremony will be some time in June. The winning projects will be submitted to the National Park Service in the early part of 2008. The Park Service must complete a revision of Gateway's General Management Plan in early 2009, and the Conservation Association is hoping that the winning proposal will become part of that plan.

There are no guarantees, however. A spokesperson for the National Park Service in Washington said that no determination would be made until a proposal was submitted and studied by NPS officials.

Brash, however, is optimistic that the NPS will take a long look at the winning proposal.

"We will sit down with the NPS and develop a way to make our vision into a workable, viable part of its management plan for Gateway," he said. "We have to show them that there is a real need and that the service has been mired in inaction for many years when it comes to this park. This has been a failure all around. The stuff has to be incorporated into the plan for there to be a viable change."

For years, the deteriorating park has been thought of and treated like a local facility by Rockaway residents who are often there.

Fort Tilden is the home of a number of local arts organization and the Rockaway Little League. Many local residents use the public gardens at Floyd Bennett Field and the new Aviator Sports complex at the former municipal and U.S. Navy airfield has become a destination for many locals.

Some of those who volunteer for those programs fear that a redesign of the park may well drive up costs or eliminate their programs entirely.

In recent months, there have been complaints that the new management team that runs the Jamaica Bay Unit has not been as friendly to local groups as the former team and that a rise in costs, teamed with a cut in services, has taken them to the brink of looking elsewhere for a new home.

Brash, who once worked for the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation, says that won't happen.

"The process includes opportunities for all interested groups to take a shot. Columbia University spent six months talking to lots of people, including Rockaway groups and some politicians like [City Councilman] Joe Addabbo to get background material and that's all on the online notes for the competition," Brash told The Wave. "After we put the best on the plate, sometime in May, we will generate a second wave of input, do some outreach to the Rockaway community and do an exhibit either at the park or in Manhattan."

In addition, he said, "There will be an on-line place for people to go and put in their three cents. We understand that the immediate community has concerns and we plan to address them."

Locals, however, remain skeptical of any grand plans for a regional outlook for the park rather than a local focus.

"I just hope that they think of the park as a local facility as well as a regional and national facility when they draw their plans," an artist, who asked not to be identified in this story, said. They can't do what is right for the park and for the region by eliminating local programs."

A recent poll conducted in the New York City area by Zogby Associates showed that nearly half of those questioned had no idea that there was a national park within the city boundaries.

Of those who said that they were familiar with the park, nearly 40 percent have never been there. Only 17 percent of those who have visited the park have been there in the last year.

Of the people who said that they were familiar with the park, the greatest number (71 percent) knew of Sandy Hook, 34 percent knew of Riis Park, a like number knew of Jamaica Bay and 30 percent knew of the Breezy Point- Fort Tilden area.

Nearly 75 percent of those questioned said that they would visit a national park that "offered a wealth of recreational activities and nature study," according to the poll.

Brash sees the poll as revealing of what the park needs.

"At the ball fields in Fort Tilden, for example, you have some nice fields. Turn towards the ocean, however and you have a large empty lot and four trashed buildings," he said. "We have to do better than that."

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