Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Delays, Cost Overruns and Funding Shortage In Prospect Park's $ 74 Mil. Ice Skating Project

“People will say, ‘Why are you building this thing, when you don’t have money to maintain the park?’ ” - Adrian Benepe

The Lakeside Center and skating rink in Prospect Park no longer includes the second story, a publicly accessible rooftop due to budget cuts. The project is not fully funded yet either.

The $74 million 26-acre Lakeside Project, "designed to invigorate the long-neglected southeastern portion of Prospect Park," is behind schedule according to the New York Times. The center's cost was originally $50 million when it was unveiled in 2007 but has increased $25 million. Work was set to start in 2009 but it did not begin until December 2010. Officials had wanted to open the rinks in January 2013 but that has been pushed back until the fall of 2013. The facility is replacing the Kate Wollman Rink which was torn down two years ago.

The project was caught up in New York State Senator Carl Kruger bribery scandal. The disgraced senator was charged with trading political favors for more than $1 million in bribes over the past five years. According to the Federal complaint, in December 2010 Bruce R. Bender - a vice president for government relations and public relations at Forest City Ratner (FCR) - asked Kruger for $11 million in state funds for three FCR projects in Brooklyn – including $4 million to renovate for the Lakeside skating rink in Prospect Park near Bender’s Park Slope home. Amy Bender, Bruce's wife, is a board member for the fundraising organization Prospect Park Alliance.

In December the Senator resigned and pleaded guilty to various federal corruption and bribery charges.


Inside the fencing proclaiming “Lakeside is for you” at the southeastern end of Prospect Park, tractors sat beneath a canopy covering a future outdoor hockey rink.

Beside it, a second rink was outlined like an oval pond, as ice-making equipment slept under plastic in a nearby building. Saplings basked in the sun where workers had already left one recent afternoon.

Lakeside, a $74 million, 26-acre undertaking, is the first major construction project in 50 years in Prospect Park. It is intended to reinvigorate a long-neglected portion of the park and accommodate the 10 million visitors now streaming to the 585-acre Brooklyn oasis each year.

Now, more than five years after plans were announced and two winters after the decrepit Kate Wollman Rink was torn down, the project is half-built and half-imagined. And behind schedule.

Park officials had wanted to open the rinks alone in January 2013 but will not open them until the fall of that year when the entire project — including the rinks, cafe, education center, island and buildings topped by grass — is complete.

“Our biggest concern is that we really hate to disappoint people who would like to be skating,” said Emily Lloyd, the president of the Prospect Park Alliance, the nonprofit organization that operates the park in conjunction with the city. “Hopefully, when it opens in 2013, all will be forgiven.”

The project is emblematic of a park in transition — from a crime-ridden, dilapidated den of 25 years ago to a vibrant, rustic haven struggling to keep pace with maintenance and use demands despite a thinning budget.

Bicycle riders peddle past advertisements highlighting the delayed project. (Photo: Eric Michael Johnson for The New York Times

Trash is an enduring problem in Prospect Park, in and around its lake. The water quality of the lake, which is brimming with blue-green algae, has also caused officials concern. There have been battles over barbecuing and the discarding of charcoal near trees. Recently, the park has dedicated resources to creating a new road-sharing plan for cyclists, runners and vehicles, which has drawn complaints from motorists. Community boards are anxious about new traffic patterns.

As a reduced staff scrambles alongside volunteers to maintain the park, Lakeside’s gleaming promise offers a striking contrast to the cracked paths, puddles and careworn sections in the eastern part of the park, like the Vale of Cashmere.

“People will say, ‘Why are you building this thing, when you don’t have money to maintain the park?’ ” Adrian Benepe, the city’s commissioner of parks and recreation, said in a recent interview. “As if somehow, the money is fungible. Capital money and operating money are not fungible. You don’t stop building just because it is difficult to maintain the park. You have this opportunity to replace a 50-year-old building.”

Ms. Lloyd said that replacing the rink that Robert Moses built in 1960 would be the linchpin to other restoration projects. But financing is always an issue.

Prospect Park has never enjoyed the same rich resources afforded by its Manhattan cousin, the 843-acre Central Park. The Central Park Conservancy, the nonprofit group that manages the Manhattan park for the city, has a $42.4 million budget; 15 percent of that total comes from the city, while the rest is raised privately.

Prospect Park has a $12.3 million budget, including $8.3 million from the alliance and $4 million from the city. Since 2007, the alliance’s budget has been trimmed by $1.1 million.

Lakeside’s financing, relying on generous allocations from the state and city, is separate — and the project’s price tag has increased $25 million since the first design in 2007. “My major concern is the cost,” said Dany Cunningham, the chairman of the park’s Community Committee, whose 80 organizations worked with the alliance to shape the project. “It’s always amazing, the longer things take, the more it doubles and quadruples. But the old rink had more than outlived its useful life — it had to be done.”

The old rink was in use during just the winter season. Now, in the summer, the new larger rink will be for roller skating and the smaller will be a water playground.

Opening the rinks separate from the new public spaces would have cost over $450,000, officials said, because it would have required building a temporary access road for emergency vehicles and other structures. Lakeside secured enough financing so that workers could finish everything at once.

Amy Musick, a teacher living on Ocean Avenue in the small neighborhood of Prospect-Lefferts Gardens, recounted the eager buzz among fellow mothers at the Lincoln Road playground last week.

“Everybody was saying, ‘We can’t wait, it’s about time this side of the park will get some attention,’ ” Ms. Musick said.

Lakeside has been buoyed by a $10 million donation, from Shelby White, 73, a Manhattan philanthropist who grew up skating on the lake. Her Leon Levy Foundation contributed to the restoration of five acres of lake shore. Park officials said they have raised about $65.5 million thus far and still hoped to sell naming rights to the rinks.

The project is rich in details. Last week, Christian Zimmerman, Prospect Park’s vice president for design and construction since 1990, proudly displayed 20,000 square feet of bluestone for the walkway beneath a majestic semicircle of London plane trees. He said workers found original granite and sandstone when they dug up the old rink, and will incorporate those materials with the new.

But the pièces de résistance are locked in a trailer by the site. “These are my babies,” Mr. Zimmerman said, showing off six new cast bronze urns, based on the original Olmsted and Vaux design. The urns account for $270,000, part of Ms. White’s grant.

“We are really layering modern design with historic preservation,” said Mr. Zimmerman, who is working with the architects Billie Tsien and Tod Williams, whose works include the new Barnes Foundation museum in Philadelphia and the building that once housed the American Folk Art Museum in Midtown.

The Moses rink, surrounded by a chain-link fence, destroyed vistas of the lake and paved over Music Island. Last week officials drained a section of the lake to recreate the island, and a “fish rescue” operation returned turtles and fish to other parts of the lake.

Balancing nature and modern recreation is a delicate proposition in a park where the number of visitors has more than doubled in the last 20 years. Glenn Phillips, executive director of New York City Audubon and a former official of the alliance, praised the restoration of the park’s natural landscapes, starting in the 1990s with the Ravine and progressing to the Lakeside shoreline.

“For the total restoration of the park, there’s a long way to go,” Mr. Phillips said. “But this is a big, symbolic piece."

And yet there are still those skeptical of the changes. Dobriana Gheneva, a 37-year-old mother of two from Park Slope, who has had to take her 5-year-old son, Filip, to Manhattan to skate, is worried about what will happen when the new park finally does open.

“I really liked it the way it was,” Ms. Gheneva said last week in the park. “I’m afraid it’s going to be too fancy and will get crowds of people.”

Lisa W. Foderaro contributed reporting

Read More:

New York Times - March 19, 2012 - By Liz Robbins

A Walk In The Park - October 26, 2011 - By Geoffrey Croft

A Walk In The Park - March 13, 2011

A Walk In The Park - December 15, 2010

1 comment:

  1. Meanwhile, this project still calls for removing all the trees and grass on Breeze Hill to turn it into an unnecessary parking lot. One more feather in the "Mismanagement Cap" for Adrian Benepe.