Wednesday, November 21, 2018

La Marina Drug Bust

A La Marina employee was arrested for selling drugs out of La Marina, the controversial Parks Department concession after a 5 month investigation by police. The politically connected establishment, whose owners include Mayor de Blasio associate Fernando Mateo, has racked up numerous violations as well as the ire of local residents.   (File photo:  Geoffrey Croft/NYC Park Advocates) 


By Geoffrey Croft

Add drug dealing to the long list of offenses at the Parks Department’s most infamous Parks’ property. 

A La Marina employee was busted selling drugs out of La Marina, the controversial Parks Department concession, NYC Park Advocates has learned. 

A series of controlled buys were conducted at the restaurant during a long-term investigation where large sums of cocaine, oxycodone and marijuana were purchased according to police.  

Police arrested Christian J. Mendez, 33,  of Ft. Washington Avenue in front of La Marina on Dykeman Street in upper Manhattan yesterday afternoon within the confines of the 34 Pct. 

The employee, a bar manager,  was arrested as part of an on-going undercover narcotics operation being conducted since July.

Mendez is facing 10 counts, including seven counts of Criminal Sale of a Controlled Substance.

When the suspect was arrested he was in possession of 32 ecstasy pills.   Mendez has a prior arrest for marijuana possession.

The politically connected establishment as racked up a slew of violations and the ire of local residents. 

In July La Marina was shut down after a Department of Health, The State Liquor Authority, Department of Buildings and the NYPD inspection resulted in more than 90 violations.

In July  2017 the Police Department were forced to close the concession due to severe overcrowding.  

"Frankly, I’m speechless," La Marina partner Jerald Tenenbaum said in an email.  

"Christian was with us for years, and until yesterday I would have said he was a great employee. It’s very sad."

The site has a notorious past of the Parks Department allowing rampant illegal activity.  

In December 2006, nine people were arrested for drug trafficking at the Dyckman Street Boat and Marina at the previous concession. Those indicted on narcotics charges included Jerome O’Rourke a retired police officer whose family managed the marina for many years. 

Requests for comment from the Parks Department were not returned. 

Read More:

La Marina Manager Sold Drugs Out Of Inwood Bar, Police Say
Patch - November 23, 2018 - By Brendan Krisel 

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

La Marina Shut Down After City Inspection Yields More than 90 Violations

The controversial Parks Department concession La Marina in upper Manhattan operated by the Manhattan River Group LLC whose owners include Mayor de Blasio associate Fernando Mateo was shut down on Friday night after an inspection. More than 90 violations were issued by the Department of Health,  The State Liquor Authority and the NYPD. (Photos: Geoffrey Croft/NYC Park Advocates) Click on images to enlarge.


By Geoffrey Croft

Welcome to the Parks Department's most infamous family concession, La Marina, where area neighbors live in dread.

A place where strippers brawl, where an employee was shot in the neck and where violence and crime spills out into the surrounding residential community. 

The controversial nightclub and restaurant were ordered closed by the NYC Department of Health on Friday night after city and state officials issued more than ninety violations.

The NY State Liquor Authority, Department of Health, and NYPD converged on the politically connected hot spot after a series of troubling incidents.  

Beginning at 8pm, authorities spent approximately two and a half hours meticulously documenting numerous violations during the business inspection.   

La Marina received 74 violation points, almost triple the number needed to trigger a shut down during the Department of Health's inspection on Friday. 

A yellow Department of Health closing notice posted on the restaurant over the weekend. 

The Health Department issued 15 Health Code violations. Evidence of mice or live mice were found in  the facility's food and/or non-food areas,  filth flies or food/refuse/sewage-associated (FRSA) flies  were found present in the facility’s food and/or non-food areas. Filth flies including house flies, little house flies, blow flies, bottle flies and flesh flies were also found.

Food/refuse/sewage-associated flies include fruit flies, drain flies and Phorid flies were also found. Food not protected from potential source of contamination during storage were also discovered.

The NY State Liquor Authority (SLA) also issued 64 violations including finding bugs in the liquor and non-working emergency exit lights. 

The NYPD issued 13 summonses including for blocked exits including pad-locked exit gates. The police also issued violations for non working emergency lights.

The police have been involved in several recent incidents at La Marina. 

Six people were hospitalized on July 7th for an undisclosed illness inside the location - later determined to be excessive intoxication. The NYPD issued violations to the concession for over serving.  

While officers were writing the tickets a man left the club, picked up his car in the valet area and drove into two parked cars including the marked police car with two officers inside. 

July 7, 2018. According to police an intoxicated,  unlicensed Brooklyn driver left the club, picked up his car in the valet area and drove into two parked cars including a marked police car with two officers inside. The driver got out and ran and was captured by police.  

The driver got out and ran and was apprehended by police nearby. Brooklyn resident Nigel Lewis, 27, was charged with leaving the scene of an accident, DWI, Reckless Driving and cited for no license according to the NYPD.  The  incident occurred at approximately 8:15 p.m. 

On June 15th a La Marina worker was arrested in an NYPD undercover sting operation and charged with serving a patron under the age of 21.

The concession is also facing several prior State Liquor Authority violations.  In 2017 La Marina was cited for being over capacity,  and not operating a year-round establishment each of which are cause for revocation, cancellation or suspension of the license.

On July 2, 2017, the licensee violated the Rules of the NY State Liquor Authority in not conforming with all applicable building codes and/or fire regulations regarding occupancy level. 

The NYPD was forced to shut down the club due to dangerous overcrowding which included overselling 2500 tickets according to the police.   One event,   Bikini Palooza was so inappropriately advertised that Parks forced a renaming to Beach Wear Affair after community complaints). 

The action resulted in large crowds spilling into the surrounding neighborhood along Dyckman St. and Broadway.   Police made several arrests for reckless operation of motorcycles and seized bikes.  NYPD also issued numerous summonses.

La Marina representatives have publicly denied the NYPD shut the concession down. 

According to the State Liquor Authority La Marina is required to apply for a seasonal license annually which they were caught violating.

On December 1, 2017 and on a continuing basis, the licensee ceased to be operated as a bona fide premises within the contemplation of the license issued for such premises, according to the SLA complaint.

One La Marina owner  said Friday's enforcement action caused the establishment to be "unfairly closed without notice." 

"No violation of the health code is ever acceptable; and we are doing all we can to reassure the Department of Health that we are and will continue to be compliant with its rules and policies,"  part owner Jerald Tenenbaum said in a statement to A Walk In The Park.  

"We plan to reopen on Wednesday with the Department's approval," he said.

The premises were re-opened this afternoon. 

Sign of the Times. 

Mr. Tenenbaum stated that it was not the kitchen but other areas of the two acre establishment that caused the business to be unfairly closed without notice. 

Community Board 12 recently voted to deny renewing La Marina's liquor license the first time since the controversial business opened in 2012.

La Marina founders Josh Rosen and Jerald Tenenbaum's response to neighborhood criticism was characterized as "everything’s great,” said an area resident who attended the April Community Board meeting and agreed to speak on the condition of anonymity for fear of retribution. 

"They said we are not going to talk about the 10pm (music) claim and we’re not going to talk about the valet park thing. They just refused to discuss it.

People really weren’t happy with the answers. What are you bringing to us,  you just come here telling us the same stories, everything is fine nothing’s your fault. They told a grand tale of its all DOT’s fault and the police fault its everyone else's fault," the resident said. 

In September La Marina owner and Mayor de Blasio associate Fernando Mateo threatened to sue the local 34th Pct. claiming that area businesses were being targeted unfairly.     

In 2016 Mateo was caught funneling $ 18,000 dollars to the de Blasio campaign  through an unemployed Brooklyn woman, a clear violation of campaign election law. 

In 2017 it was revealed that Mateo has been pressuring officials to get his niece promoted in the NYPD.

Lack of Parks Department Oversight 

La Marina has long been the subject of community complaints regarding 
quality-of-life violations including noise, parking according to the NYPD.

Area residents have complained since the concession's full seasonal opening in 2013 contending that La Marina has been allowed to run an illegal nightclub.  Critics say the concession routinely violates its license agreement with the city. 

Residents also bitterly complain about a "bait and switch."  

As originally presented to the public, the concession was to be a welcome family and community-friendly restaurant and grounds, with waterfront access for recreation.  Features were to include a cafe with a sailing school, kayak storage, picnic tables, open grounds and lunch service “community place to eat”  as promised.  

As originally presented to the public, the concession was to be a welcome family and community-friendly restaurant and grounds, with waterfront access for recreation. What the community got instead was very different. Most of the above area became a limited-access bottle-service and hookah VIP area (where a security guard was shot in 2014).

What they got instead they say is a nightmare. The city allowed a high-end restaurant and nightclub/concert venue to open. 

The contract prohibits concerts and requires public access.  Nonetheless, these became primary uses along with the restaurant, and hours and capacity were extended by Parks without public notification. 

City ordinance typically prevents amplified music in parks after 10:00pm.  Their concession contract (Section 10.18) also prohibits any amplified music after 10 pm.  And the music is most certainly amplified. 

The City has also been accused of allowing the operation of an illegal operated valet parking concession on parks property and on adjacent city streets.  

The  large valet operation extends west past the Parks Department property including up to Staff Street, using No Standing and regular street parking spaces. 

The 2009 concession contracts for the Marina and for the Cafe do not include the valet areas in either of their premises.  The City has been unable to provide the license agreement containing the valet parking concession,   or any proof that the concession was competitively bid or approved by Franchise Concession Review Committee,   or that any agreement exists with DOT authorizing this activity. Clear violations of city law.

A large illegal parking operation has been allowed to operate not only on city owned parkland but also on city streets. 

The illegal valet operation has extended on Dyckman St. up to Staff Street, several blocks east from La Marina. 

The DPR has “gifted” the parks department land to La Marina for parking according to several city sources.  

La Marina also uses the public greenway bike path as another entrance to the beach and concert venue which people line up on.  This illegal use of public parkland is also not in the contract. The entry, and the concert venue itself, does not appear on the site plans approved by the Public Design Commission in 2011.

Several requests seeking comment from the Parks Department went unanswered.

A 2017 Comptroller Audit found the owners underreported its gross receipts from the Restaurant by at least $488,874.

Critics also contend that vast amounts of NYPD resources are directed to the private business,  man-power that could be better utilized and equitably distributed elsewhere. 

The Police are regularly assigned to La Marina to address multiple quality-of-life issues. 

"We find the volume of DOH violations scary with La Marina's 2000+ person occupancy the public health has been put at risk,“ said Nancy Preston, Moving Forward Unidos member, a group that has been advocating for oversight on the NYC Parks concession since 2013.

"We thank the agencies for investigating and taking action.   We hope La Marina will correct all the violations.    

La Marina should be restored to what the community was originally promised, a small, family friendly restaurant, snack bar and boat marina," she said.      

Saturday night closed.

Photos: Geoffrey Croft/NYC Park Advocates) Click on images to enlarge.

Department of Health Violations

La Marina received 74 violation points, almost triple the number needed to trigger a shut down during the Department of Health's inspection on Friday. 

It takes three consecutive inspections of 28+ points to be closed.  0 to 13 points is an A, 14 to 27 points is a B, anything more than 27 is a C.  

Violations recorded in the following area (s), a Notice of Violation issued and establishment ordered closed by the Department of Health at the re-inspection conducted on 07/13/2018.
"Critical" violations are displayed in red.
Violation points: 74
Sanitary Violations
1) Hot food item not held at or above 140º F.
2) Cold food item held above 41º F (smoked fish and reduced oxygen packaged foods above 38 ºF) except during necessary preparation.
3) Raw, cooked or prepared food is adulterated, contaminated, cross-contaminated, or not discarded in accordance with HACCP plan.
4) Evidence of mice or live mice present in facility's food and/or non-food areas.
5) Filth flies or food/refuse/sewage-associated (FRSA) flies present in facility’s food and/or non-food areas. Filth flies include house flies, little house flies, blow flies, bottle flies and flesh flies. Food/refuse/sewage-associated flies include fruit flies, drain flies and Phorid flies.
6) Food not protected from potential source of contamination during storage, preparation, transportation, display or service.
7) Wiping cloths soiled or not stored in sanitizing solution.
8) Facility not vermin proof. Harborage or conditions conducive to attracting vermin to the premises and/or allowing vermin to exist.
9) Plumbing not properly installed or maintained; anti-siphonage or backflow prevention device not provided where required; equipment or floor not properly drained; sewage disposal system in disrepair or not functioning properly.

They had 31 points and three criticals on their prior inspection in June:

Violations recorded in the following area (s) and a Notice of Violation issued at the initial operational cycle inspection conducted on 06/05/2018.
"Critical" violations are displayed in red.
Violation points: 31
Sanitary Violations
1) Cold food item held above 41º F (smoked fish and reduced oxygen packaged foods above 38 ºF) except during necessary preparation.
2) Evidence of mice or live mice present in facility's food and/or non-food areas.
3) Sanitized equipment or utensil, including in-use food dispensing utensil, improperly used or stored.
4) Facility not vermin proof. Harborage or conditions conducive to attracting vermin to the premises and/or allowing vermin to exist.
5) Plumbing not properly installed or maintained; anti-siphonage or backflow prevention device not provided where required; equipment or floor not properly drained; sewage disposal system in disrepair or not functioning properly.
6) Non-food contact surface improperly constructed. Unacceptable material used. Non-food contact surface or equipment improperly maintained and/or not properly sealed, raised, spaced or movable to allow accessibility for cleaning on all sides, above and underneath the unit.

Read More:

A Walk In The Park - July 14, 2014 

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Rare Bird Sighting Creates A Stir in Central Park

A rarely seen Kirtland's Warbler in Central Park has been attracting throngs of onlookers. (Photo by Timberdoole)  


By Geoffrey Croft

The excitement was palpable. 

A rare creature weighing less than an ounce has been creating quite a scene in Central Park, NYC Park Advocates has learned. 

A Kirtland's Warbler, a colorful songbird has attracted thousands of onlookers over the last few days on the Upper Westside just north the park's W. 90th street entrance. Throngs of people have stopped to gaze at the tiny bird visiting our city high up in the trees.

This is reportedly the first time this species had been seen in Central Park and approximately the 4th time it has been seen in New York State.

Lengthy reports of the bird's activities are being updated regularly on various birding social media sites. 

On Friday night large crowds swelled to block much of the park's drive as passerby's joined birding enthusiasts to try and spot the elusive bird.

By Saturday the songbird had spread its wings a bit and ventured a few trees away with a gallery of onlookers in tow.

On Friday night crowds gathered to observe the rare bird high up in the tree.  (Photo: Geoffrey Croft/NYC Park Advocates) click on image to enlarge.

It was reportedly observed singing Saturday morning several birders posted on the American Birding Association website. 

One observer wrote, "Huge Mob present” and warned the public not to play recordings in the vicinity an effort not to disturb it. 

"PLEASE DO NOT play any recordings of this bird, or others, in the vicinity of this warbler, as many (probably many hundreds) will be wanting to have a chance to observe, visually and aurally this rare species with no disturbance to the bird itself and also no unneeded disturbance to the aural landscape within hearing (i.e. within some hundreds of feet) of this & adjacent birds,” Tom Fiore wrote. 

“Let's all self-police in this & other obvious respects, in order that order & commonsense is maintained for & by a gathering of birders & others with interest that is sure to grow to very large size,” he said. 

Kirtland's Warbler in flight Photo By Stephen Rogers.   

Kirtland's Warbler spends part of the year in northern and central Michigan and migrates in the winter to the Bahamas, and Turks and Caicos Islands. The bird is named after Jared P. Kirtland, an Ohio doctor and amateur naturalist.

The Federal U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recently proposed taking the songbird off the federal endangered list, which would drop its legal protections as their numbers have recovered. 

"It’s an extremely rare bird for NYC although just short of a national rarity, as the breeding population has rebounded after conservation efforts,” birder Phil Jeffrey told A Walk In The Park. 

Jeffrey who's been birding for more than forty years and twenty of those in Central Park, said the bird has a reputation of being rarely seen on migration and may fly directly to the Bahamas.

"It’s in the once-per-Century level for the park and I would suspect few records in NY State, That’s what generates the attention," he said.  

"Many other park “rare” warblers have much larger populations, are more-or-less annual but in very low numbers. Kirkland’s is off the scale by comparison."

(Photos: Geoffrey Croft/NYC Park Advocates) click on images to enlarge.

By Saturday the songbird had spread its wings and ventured a few trees away with a gallery of onlookers in tow.

Too much excitement for one young passerby.

"We didn’t expect it here,"  said Matthieu Benoit, 33 a molecular biophysics researcher originally from Normandy, France. 

In the States for almost 5 years, he said he’s been birding since he was eight years old.  On Saturday Benoit was paying his second visit in two days armed with an enormous camouflaged camera lens to catch the elusive bird. 

"It's extremely rare. It's the first time its seen in migration in New York City. To see it you have to go to Michigan or to the Bahamas, and it's not that easy to see it there."  

He said he found out about the sighting through email and twitter alerts from the birding community.  

 "It was a really good find," he said. 

One on-looker was overheard saying he had a dream about the bird last night.

It is unknown how long the tiny visitor will stick around but most agreed it would not be long.  

Matthieu Benoit, 33, (center- blue jacket) "It was a really good find," he said.  

On Saturday onlookers gathered on the bride path to watch the activity. 

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Shots Fired Into Crowd In Playground Where Deceased Newborn Was Found


By Geoffrey Croft

Shots were fired into a Queens playground yesterday afternoon, NYC Park Advocates has learned.

A park worker retuning from lunch heard the shots inside Dutch Kills Playground  near 28 St., Crescent St. bet. 37 Ave. and 36 Ave

"I heard Pow Pow, Pow. I looked into the park saw a guy his hands up like was just shooting," the worker said.

The park worker saw two people fleeing. The assailants escape was temporarily blocked when they tried to use the ramp exit near Public School 112  near 36 Ave which is blocked due to construction.

"They were trying to get out that exit but couldn't because it was blocked off."

 That's where found a  9mm handgun was found by park workers.

"I guess where the guy dropped the gun," a worker said.

The shooter exited near 36th Air and head towards 21st street where he met up with a Spanish male wearing a green army jacket.

"I was terrified," a worker said.

The park employee  took off and ran into a nearby store where the police were called.

The shooter was described as a black male wearing a black jacket with a blue sweat shirt, black sweat pants with a white stripe down the side.  

Police said the shooter was in his 20's.

The incident occurred approximately 12:40pm within the confines of the 114th Pct.

On Saturday morning a newborn baby boy was found in a trash can in the same playground by park goers at approximately 10:45am.

The umbilical cord was still attached according to law enforcement.

 The medical examiner is determining the cause of death.

In New York, a parent can  leave their child and call the Safe Haven hotline at 1-877-796-HOPE, and the child will be picked up by child care workers.

Abandoned Infant Protection Act allows a parent to abandon a newborn baby up to 30 days of age anonymously and without fear of prosecution — if the baby is abandoned in a safe manner, such as at a police or fire station.

"New York's Safe Haven Law allows a parent to leave a child thirty days or younger with an appropriate person or in a suitable location, such as a hospital, police station, firehouse or church where the parent promptly notifies an appropriate person of the child's location. Unfortunately, the mother of this baby did not adhere to the law and instead chose to stuff the infant in a bag and discard him in a garbage can," the Queens District Attorney Richard Brown said in a statement.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

FDNY Ice Rescue In Forest Park - Child, 11, In Serious Condition


By Geoffrey Croft

The Fire Department pulled  an 11-year-old child out of the ice waters in Forest Park this afternoon after apparently falling through the ice.

Divers found the boy submerged in Strack Pond about 50 feet from the shore and pulled him to shoreline.

The first 911 call came at 4:05 p.m. for a person in the water.

FDNY performed CPR on the scene.  CPR was also performed in ambulance in the way to Jamaica Hospital.

The child is listed in serious condition according to FDNY.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Newest Park In Chelsea A Step Closer To Reality

Coming Soon -  A Place To Play.  A mother and child stop and peer through an open fence on West 20th Street between 6th and & 7th Avenue yesterday to watch a construction crew demolish a former Department of Sanitation building. Since 2010 Chelsea residents have fought tooth and nail to transform a 10,000 sq. ft, quarter-acre lot into a public park.  Chelsea Green park will become a rare, mid-block pocket park in a neighborhood whose residential population has exploded in a particularly park starved area of the city. The park is slated to open in 2019.  

In the end the city was able to secure three times the number of affordable housing units than what was originally envisioned at the park site.  A Win, Win For Everyone.  (Photos: Geoffrey Croft/NYC Advocates) Click on images to enlarge.


By Geoffrey Croft

The first new city park to be built in Chelsea in almost 50 years is inching closer to reality. 

On Friday officials gathered in the footprint of what will soon become a rare, mid-block pocket park in a particularly park-starved area of the city and in a neighborhood where the residential population has exploded. 

A green space that was fought for tooth and nail.

Flanked by large earthmoving equipment and the skeleton remains of the two-story building surrounded by construction debris,  representatives including City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, Parks Commissioner Mitchell Silver, and from the Department of Design and Construction and open space community activists gathered for a photo op.
Chelsea Green, as the new the $ 5.3 million dollar park will be called is expected to open in 2019, nine years after the community first began its push to create a much needed park space.

“Access to green space is vitally important, and for too long, East Chelsea met the definition of a park desert,” said Council Speaker Corey Johnson who, along with the mayor allocated the park’s funding.  

“This park is one of my proudest achievements in public service. I want to thank Commissioner Silver, the Parks Department and the many community members who made Chelsea Green Park a reality,” he said.

Matthew Weiss, City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, Parks Commissioner Mitchell Silver and officials from the Department of Design and Construction at Friday's photo-op.  “This park is one of my proudest achievements in public service," commented Speaker Corey Johnson who was instrumental in securing the park. (Photo: Friends of 20th Street Park)

This fall demolition began on the old Sanitation Department building where the agency’s Derelict Vehicle Operations office had occupied 136/140 W. 20th Street for at least 65 years.

Matt Weiss, a founder of Friends of 20th Street Park, is ecstatic to see the park finally come to fruition. 

"To be able to finally stand in the actual footprint of the space and realize how substantial it is by New York City standards it made it all real. It’s a real transformation come true,” he said.  

"Every event like this is just a reminder of all the highs and lows of the experience to get us here and get us one step closer to the final reveal of a great green space."  

Weiss credits a chance encounter with city Sanitation workers on his way to work one morning in September 2010 that lead to what he refers to as, “an adventure of a lifetime."   

On that fateful day he said he noticed some commotion in front of the lot across the street from his building, workers were padlocking the gate, so he inquired. 

They told him their operation at the site was closing and they were being relocated to another borough.

"I said, ‘really.’” 

Weiss, then a father of a one year-old, said that’s when the lightbulb moment to build a park went off.  

"Wow the city is vacating this city-owned site how unusual it is where there wouldn’t have to be a cost of acquisition for land and this neighborhood is really starved for green, for parks,” he said. 

He began sharing his idea with family, friends and neighbors.  

"I quickly got the same feedback - nearby parks aren’t that near, and the neighborhood is booming with families and seniors.”

The remains of the Sanitation Department building in the future park site on Friday.

Unwilling to accept the city's historically uneven track record of creating open spaces in needy communities, he made a decision to try and do something about it. A diverse coalition of residents and business owners throughout Chelsea was created and Friends of 20th Street Park was born. 

A steering committee was formed, a website was created, the group began compiling an email list that kept growing,  they felt momentum.

"Then we hit a wall,” Weiss said.

The group soon found out the property had been promised for affordable housing as part of Western Rail Yards 2004 rezoning on the far Westside. 

The group researched dozens of potential alternative housing sites but neither City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, who represented the area, the City's Department of Housing Preservation agency nor the Community Board were budging.

“It was being told no in the face of what we thought was really good logic that made us so determined to have common sense prevail. The neighborhood needed a park, residential density was booming, there was lots of other opportunities for housing but only one for a park and we just wouldn’t take no for an answer,”  Weiss said.     

The group generated petitions and letters of support, they received the endorsements from twenty-one individual block associations.

In January 2011, The Council of Chelsea Block Associations (CCBA), an early supporting organization wrote to Community Board 4 and to local officials asking the board to reconsider its position. 

“[I]f a park is allowed to be established on the site, many hundreds if not thousands of residents will make use of the park…low income, middle income and upper income residents. It will be much easier to add 75 units of affordable housing to make up for the ‘loss’…as compared to finding space for a park starved community,” wrote CCBA president Bill Borock.

Politics continued to block success. 

Undeterred the group pressed on, for years.  

2011. The Sanitation Department building and lot facilitated the agency's Derelict Vehicle Operations office at 136/140 W. 20th Street for more than 65 years.

Demolition crews worked yesterday clearing out the last remains of the building.   The Department of Design and Construction is demolishing and clearing the space, it will then be turned over to the Parks Department for the construction of play structures, plantings trees, seating, and space for rotating public art displays. Chelsea Green is projected to open by 2019 according to the city.

Supporters packed community board meetings, organized social media campaigns, held rallies, met with numerous city officials in this uphill battle. 

As luck would have it the park movement had a passionate supporter who would become the park’s key political ally in the fight.

Community Board 4 member Corey Johnson worked quietly and effectively behind the scenes to help achieve both the community’s park plan as well as the affordable housing component.  And then some.

Early on, Weiss said,  Corey saw an opportunity to do "a world of good on both fronts.” 

These days Weiss thinks a lot about how this has all come full circle.

"We had an obstacle in prior leadership" he said. 

“In my view others saw an opportunity to make good on two important needs for the community. So to go from this to seven years later to Corey Johnson our biggest champion - you go from your biggest obstacle to your greatest champion you couldn’t have written a movie script any better.”

In the end the city was able to secure 220 affordable housing units at 495 Eleventh Avenue compared to 65 that was originally envisioned for the 20th St. site, three times the number of affordable housing units.  This alternative housing location was one of the lead sites the group researched and submitted to HPD and Speaker Quinn at the very beginning.   

The success here which achieved both important goals has not gone unnoticed among open space and community advocates.  The de Blasio administration has pitted housing vs. parks in several locations throughout the city as the Mayor has sought to dramatically increase the number of affordable housing units.  

Rendering of the future park.  The park will include play equipment for several age groups,  plantings, trees, seating, and space for rotating public art displays. Chelsea Green is projected to open by 2019 according to the city.

De Blasio is still pushing various housing plans involving parks and open spaces from Brooklyn Bridge Park to the Elizabeth Street Garden, Mill Pond Park in the Bronx to the Marx Brothers Playground and NYCHA Holmes Towers in East Harlem and Yorkville. 

The building of public parks and affordable housing are not mutually exclusive. The success here proves that both can be achieved through political will.

So many defeats, so much skepticism not only about our odds but about our motivation," Weiss said.

"In the end we played this role of not just compromise but peace maker. We found ways to solve another problem in the city with affordable housing, so to be able to get in the end triple the number of units of housing and a new park it gives me some real optimism that ordinary people in the community can find creative solutions that the government otherwise doesn't see for themselves. You just have to really stick to a cause and believe in it and make a lot of noise and then be very patient,” he said with a laugh. 

Weiss argues that every political decision should be made with such an open mind.  

He credits the success of achieving both the park and dramatically more affordable housing to an army of dedicated, tireless volunteers, and a little luck.

“It can be done. It took this ridiculous amount of perseverance and determination from a group that really coalesced but it did take some luck," he said. 

“Corey was instrumental in the success of the park," Weiss continued.   

"I think what he saw was an opportunity to solve two problems, that's what leadership is….he was just a problem solver, and a very charismatic, optimistic problem solver. We couldn’t have asked for a better council member in our district who happened to become a super powerful leader in city politics," he said. 

“Years and years of the community working together along with the collective efforts of our elected officials, made this community’s dream for green space a reality,”  said Friends of 20th Street Park committee member Sally Greenspan.  

Ms. Greenspan said she realized the park was actually going to happen when the project won the council member’s 2014 Participatory Budget competition.   

"Today, I am able to witness the park’s creation as it happens in real time.  And soon neighbors will be gathering and children will be playing in Chelsea Green, awesome!” she said. 

"The process of getting a park has been full of ups and downs,” said Friends committee member Dan O’Sullivan.    

"At the first community board meeting when we all filed up and presented in favor of the idea I thought logic would be clear to everyone, we would carry the day and construction of the park would commence the next day.  Instead, that meeting was followed by hundreds more as we wandered through the apparently hopeless wilderness of existing and competing and powerful agendas.  The participatory budget process was the thing that really dramatically turned the tide.  At that point, Corey Johnson, who coincidently stood right next to us at that very first community board meeting as the timekeeper ensuring out speeches were not too long, saw the depths of support for this project, took it on and made it happen.  I am very grateful for the work Corey has done on this.  While I originally was hoping to bring my kids to a swing set, now I am looking for a bench to read the newspaper on in my retirement, the thought of some green space in that neighborhood instead of just plugging that last gap with another building was the right thing to do for future generations,”  he said.  

The campaign helped galvanize a community in a neighborhood long known as industrial. East Chelsea is transforming from a largely commercial district into what has become a vibrant residential community. 

"To be able to finally stand in the actual footprint of the space and realize how substantial it is by New York City standards it made it all real," said Matt Weiss.  “It's a real transformation come true.”

“Your world can be kind of small in that you just don’t know your neighbors and this exercise brought this community this neighborhood -  if you want to call it East Chelsea - together in such a wonderful family sort of way that neighbors know each other now not just on 20th street but on 17th and 18th, 19th,” Weiss said recalling ideas brought up in conversations with fellow steering committee member Sally Greenspan.   

"They will play in the park and be friends and be part of a bigger community because of this fight and the effort and that’s what people have told me a long time was that’s the point of parks in the first place. So the fact that you build this (community) before the park was even built is really doubly special I think," Weiss said.      

Matt and his wife Joanna now have three kids - ages, 8, 4 and 2. Their children, along with thousands of others will undoubtably be spending a lot of time in the new park when its completed. 

The project, created out of love and achieved through steadfast determination will serve the city and many people of all ages for generations to come.

A Win, Win For Everyone.  

One of many events the group organized over the years in order to bring attention to the issue.

(Photos: Geoffrey Croft/NYC Advocates) Click on images to enlarge.

Read More:

A Walk In The Park  - December 16, 2011 

A Walk In The Park - November 14, 2011

A Walk In The Park - September 22, 2011

A Walk In The Park -  May 2, 2011 

A Walk In The Park  - February 10, 2011 

A Walk In The Park - January 12, 2011