East River Park Dodges Closure

East River State Park has dodged Albany’s budget cuts like the hipsters who play dodgeball during the park’s popular summer concert series.

Governor David Paterson recently announced his recommendations for the closure of 41 parks and 14 historic sites in New York State, and service reductions at 23 parks and one historic site, due to the state’s burgeoning financial crisis.

“New York faces an historic fiscal crisis of unprecedented magnitude,” said Paterson. “In an environment when we have to cut funding to schools, hospitals, nursing homes, and social services, no area of state spending, including parks and historic sites, could be exempt from reductions.”

Fortunately, East River State Park (North 8th and Kent Avenue) in Williamsburg did not make the proposed list.

“While no one can predict what cuts may come in the future, it appears that the concert negotiations have made the East River State Park relatively safe from cuts,” said Assemblymember Joseph Lentol (D-Williamsburg). “I will continue to monitor the situation to ensure that we stay off the list of closures and will keep the community informed of any developments. But for now we seem to be safe.”

State Parks Commissioner Carol Ash, who put forward the proposed list, said that the actions “were not recommended lightly” and were necessary for the state to address its difficulties. A 2009 study showed that state parks generate $1.9 billion in economic activity statewide, including 20,000 non-parks jobs.

According to parks officials and Lentol’s office, East River was not included in the list because the park generates revenue for the state through its lucrative and popular summer concert series. Last year, the park was closed temporarily due to budgetary shortages, as state parks officials locked the gate on Kent Avenue for two months before community leaders finally negotiated a deal to keep the park open.

“It’s a very easy site for them to fallow or to close,” said Amy Cleary, a spokesperson for Assemblyman Lentol. “Considering it was one of the first parks on the chopping block last time around, we have every reason to believe that it would have been closed this year if we didn’t get together to have the concerts there, to give it a direct stream of revenue to save this park.”

The 2010 summer concert series, sponsored by Jelly NYC and the Open Space Alliance, almost did not happen this year, as negotiations among the parties stalled last fall. An agreement was reached early this year for the concerts to return, which may have saved the park as well.