Monday, October 17, 2011

Related Companies Finally Agrees To Sit Down Over Ruppert Playground

Children peer though the locked gates of Ruppert Playground on Sunday. The Related Company locked the popular playground on September 12th. (Photos: Geoffrey Croft/NYC Park Advocates) Click on image to enlarge.


By Geoffrey Croft

Council Speaker Christine Quinn delivered some good news yesterday to Upper East Side residents who have been locked out of a popular playground for more than a month. The Speaker announced that the mega-developer The Related Companies had finally agreed to sit down to discuss options that would preserve Ruppert Playground, a popular park located between E. 92nd/93rd St. btw. 2nd/3rd Avenues.

Opened in 1978 through a federal grant, the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) sold the playground to The Related Companies in 1983 in a behind-closed-door deal against the community's wishes. The deal was orchestrated by a former HPD official who later went to work for Related.

On Sunday children, parents, seniors, and community members gathered for a press conference and rally
to demand that The Related Companies open the locked park gates, come to the negotiating table and abandon plans to erect a 49 story building in a community that ranks dead last in the amount of parks and open space in the entire city! Participants demand that the City negotiate a deal to acquire the land back.

"Although Related Companies has locked these gates and shut us out of this park, they will not be able to shut us down, this has only made us stronger and more resolved to win this fight and boy are they in for a tough fight against a strong community," Oscar Fernandez, Campaign To Save Ruppert Playground organizer said to thunderous applause.

"This community has been taken advantage of for far too long. We will no longer stand idly by while greed tries to destroy our community, much less take away Ruppert Playground. City Hall must right a wrong that was done to this community when this park was sold to the Related Companies over 25 years ago."

A host of elected officials, including Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn,
Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer,
Council Members Daniel Garodnick and Jessica Lappin, New York State Senator Jose Serrano and State
Assembly member Dan Quart, attended the event.

City Council Speaker Christine Quinn rallied with residents and other elected officials on Sunday, Oct. 16, to save Ruppert Playground. They are hoping to work something out with the Related Companies, which plans to build a 49-story tower on the site. (Twitter/ChrisCQuinn via DNAinfo)

"This neighborhood is one of the parts of the city with the least open space anywhere in the five boroughs but it's a neighborhood with one of the largest residential communities anywhere in the city. Those two facts together just don't work," said City Council Speaker Christine Quinn.

The speaker said The Related Companies just yesterday finally agreed to sit down with the Council, Bloomberg administration officials, park and community representatives and "start the dialogue of what we can do to save this park for Manhattan as a whole and for this neighborhood," she said to loud applause.

She noted that a lot bigger things have been worked out than saving a park when people were at the table talking.

"I am very confident that we will prevail now that we will be in the room together.
I look forward to coming back and reporting success out of those negotiations."

The Speaker also thanked the community for being vigilant in bringing this important issue to the attention of the elected officials.

Neighborhood children pose with some of the more than 1200 correspondences collected over a few hours during a recent letter writing night.

"We are united today with a simple message," said Congresswoman and long time area resident Carolyn Maloney.

"Related must come to the table and negotiate with the city, with the community and with the elected officials to reach a compromise that will save greenspace and save Ruppert Playground. The kids have the best message, they're trying to get into their playground, they said '"don't build here we want to play here,"' and we want to help them achieve that. It used to be a park and it was sold, they never should have done that."

"These are uphill struggles but the magic formula is how communities come together from one tip of Manhattan to the bottom throughout our city to make sure that we create open space in a city that is expecting one million new residents to be here in the next twenty years, " said Manhattan
Borough President Scott Stringer.
"We simply can't accommodate everybody and give people the quality-of-life they need and hope for unless we get to the table."

Mr. Stringer said he has been in touch with Related and believed a compromise could be reached that met the company's needs but, "also meets the needs of the community."

"I represent the forth council district,"
Council Member Daniel Garodnick. "
he forth council district ranks fifty-first out of fifty one council districts in the City of New York in terms of its open public space. And when we have some we are not going to let it go that easily."

"It's a beautiful day out here today," he continued. "The kids of this neighborhood should be standing inside enjoying themselves as opposed to being out here complaining, protesting the loss of a neighborhood park. It is a shame."

Mr. Garodnick, like Speaker Quinn, pointed out the increased need for park and open space since the original deal was made.

"We need to fight to make sure that this park is re-opened. Our message to Related today is come to the table, act in good faith, work with us, find alternatives, we will work with you."

"If you look around us you'll see in this neighborhood skyscrapers are a dime a dozen, but a park like this, this is rare, this is a jewel, it is a treasure for this community and we are going to save it,"
Council Member
Jessica Lappin
said emphatically.

"I have no doubt that when you bring people together with a common goal which is a common good we are going to get there."

New York State Senator member Jose Serrano spoke of the important need
to invest in parks and open spaces and provide recreational opportunities to help prevent the rise of childhood obesity, diabetes, and hyper-tension.

"Without viable open space where are our kids going to go," Mr. Jose Serrano asked. "Where are they going to burn of all those calories. When you think about what is the antidote for all those horrible preventable diseases I mentioned, this playground is that antidote. And the City will spend far more money caring for unfortunately a sicker population over time if we do not provide the recreational outlets, the positive outlets for this community.
We are short-changing our youth today. We have to save this park."

Newly elected State Assembly member Dan Quart has personal experiences with the park.

"From a personal standpoint living a block away, having lived in this community for twenty-three years, having played with my nephew, playing basketball in this park-having taken my four-year-old son to this park... I know personally how important it is to the future, to the people of the East-Nineties," he said.

Mr. Quart noted that a few weeks earlier the community collected more than twelve hundred letters and less than twenty days later
Related agreed to come to the table.

"Those two facts are intertwined, " he said.

"We must keep the pressure up.... It's so important that Related knows that when they're in City Hall negotiating with the political leadership behind me that there is an active community willing to fight and I know we will."

The event ended with a rousing "Save Our Park, Save our Community" rallying cry.

The community began raising awareness two years ago when it discovered the agreement between Related and the city that required the developer to keep the playground open for twenty-five years had expired.

BACKGROUND: For more than 30 years the park has played a vital role in the lives of countless people. In 1983 the City sold the land to The Related Company in a behind-close doordeal against the community's wishes. The deal was orchestrated by a former HPD official who went to work for Related. On June 30th, 2008, the 1983 Land Disposition Agreement between the Department of Housing Preservation & Development (HPD) and Carnegie Park Associates (The Related Companies) expired. The end of this agreement allowed Related Companies to develop the park.

The original 1968 Ruppert Urban Renewal Project Plan and subsequent revisions recognized the severe lack of park and open space which said contributed to "unsatisfactory living conditions" in the neighborhood. It also noted that "inadequate recreational and community facilities” were contributing to the “unsatisfactory living conditions to the immediate area and in general neighborhood." The plan was deeply flawed however as it fell significantly short in adequately addressing the community’s needs. Since the original Renewal Plan was created the need for parks and open space in the community has only grown worse. Density has increased dramatically as numerous high-rise buildings have been built in the immediate area. The Plan did not adequately factor in future development in the area nor its impacts.

The Related Company is one of the country's most successful and politically connected developers. They are very friendly with the Bloomberg administration and are involved with many projects that involve the City. One possibility is for the City to swap another piece of land in exchange for the Ruppert Playground property. This is done all the time.

Read/View More:

Upper East Side Residents Ask Developer To Save Playground

NY1 News - October 16, 2011

UES Residents Rally to Keep a Privately-Owned Playground Public

WNYC Radio - October 16, 2011

Local Community Seek Reopening Of Playground

My Fox - October 16, 2011

Playground Closure Protests

WPIX - October 16, 2011

RAW VIDEO: Playground Closure Protests

WPIX - October 16, 2011

Residents Rally to Save Ruppert Playground

DNAinfo - October 17, 2011 By Amy Zimmer

1010 WINS - October 16, 2011

Ruppert Playground Press Conference

October 16, 2011 (Part 1)

Ruppert Playground Press Conference

October 16, 2011 (Part 2)

Ruppert Playground Press Conference

October 16, 2011 (Part 3)

Bloomberg Administration Rejects Tax Break To Keep Ruppert Playground Open -

Related Companies MIA In Further Negotiations

A Walk in The Park - October 4, 2011

A Walk In The Park - September 14, 2011

Walk In The Park - September 11, 2011 - By Geoffrey Croft

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