DULL and DULLER
If the design team for the new boardwalk was shooting for an underwhelming response they achieved so with flying colors—though flying colors is probably the wrong choice of words, especially since color was so lacking. If they were aiming for an Olympic Beige medal, they earned it.
The unveiling of possible boardwalk designs on Monday night in front of the Parks and Recreation committee of the Community Board seemed to have a numbing effect on the committee and the small crowd at the Knights of Columbus. It was only after the meeting and in the days following that some acknowledged that the options were lackluster.
Claire Weisz of WXY, an architecture and urban design firm and subcontractor hired for design, revealed boardwalk choices of beige, more beige and slightly less beige. She said the renderings were influenced or inspired by the result of a survey of 680 community respondents which was conducted online and at public-invited design sessions.
One drawing, called “Graphic Text Design,” was a series of rectangular beige or brownish concrete blocks with letters that could allegedly be seen from the sky. The sample lettering read: 86th St Rockaway Beach. The basic font lettering was light beige or sand colored.
The next rendering was called the “Bubble Design.” This design revealed a smattering of blue glass or stone bubbles or random “paint splotches” as one observer noted.
The third concept was called “Wave Design.” This choice had a wavy beige or sand colored pattern.
In a slide presentation, the three designs were listed as “Boardwalk Accent Preliminary Concepts.” In this case, however, “preliminary” meant close to “final.” The members of the committee were asked to vote on their favorite so that the selected option could be revealed at the full Community Board meeting just a few weeks ahead on December 10th.
The Bubble Design – the one with random blue ovals — got zero votes. The Graphic Text edged the Wave (no relation to this newspaper!) concept 5 to 4. Although the vote was close, there was no discernible enthusiasm for either.
After the meeting, one committee member said the graphic could be “punched up” with color or script lettering. Another said, “This looks like any boardwalk anywhere. This is something we’ve gotta be happy with for 50 years. Or forever. I don’t see it.”
Jose Velez urged his fellow committee members to consider the boardwalk’s essential appeal. “Let’s not forget the boardwalk is the economic engine of Rockaway. It has to be great.”
Members of the committee were also asked to weigh in on lighting fixtures, benches, and water fountain options. The height of the lighting was an important factor for the design team because the number of light poles would affect construction plans. For example, a light at 30 feet high casts more light allowing for fewer poles. Fewer poles would mean fewer engineering challenges. The lengthy discussion also included pros and cons of LED lighting and solar panels. The committee settled on lamp heights of 25-27 feet, the exact style still to be determined.
Although no public speaking is permitted at Community Board committee meetings, the peanut gallery wasn’t entirely mute. One local in the crowd said it was premature and distracting to even have to consider lights and benches at this point. “They can be replaced. The boardwalk is basically forever. We have to have something that’s amazing. That’s the main thing.”
The “Graphic Text” design – the one favored by the committee – was supposed to be designed so that the words could be seen from the sky. It was hoped that many aerial photographs would be taken and serve as a great advertisement for the boardwalk and Rockaway. As currently rendered, it’s likely the beige block letters won’t even be noticed, let alone photographed.
The completion date remains a fuzzy matter. When pressed about a worst case, very conservative completion date, Deputy Commissioner of Parks, Liam Kavanagh said “four years.” When it was pointed out that four years meant it would be 2018 before a summer crowd would enjoy a full boardwalk, Kavanagh said he hoped “to do better.” He said a lot variables were in play including the roles of other agencies.
Someone in the back of the room speculated, “Maybe that’s part of the plan. They say four years so then we’ll be like give us anything, just give us a boardwalk.” Others nodded in agreement.
The Wave asked the Economic Development Corporation (EDC) for clarity on the timeline. The EDC is the agency in charge of hiring contractors and designers for the boardwalk project. Although offering no target dates or specifics, a spokesperson said the boardwalk would open in increments, that it wouldn’t just be closed and then opened all at once.
Parks, EDC, and CH2MHill, the company hired to do the rebuild, are said to be considering temporary offsets such as connecting smaller gaps between stillstanding sections of boardwalk so that longer, continuous stretches of boardwalk could be enjoyed. One such gap exists from approximately Beach 38th to Beach 35th Street. If a temporary surface connected the two, a continuous boardwalk would run from Beach 59th to Beach 9th Street.
The next opportunity for the community to have input on boardwalk matters will be at the Community Board meeting on December 10th.
Boring walk or boardwalk? Too beige or not too beige? That is the question.