Officials open temporary ‘pop-up’ park at Willoughby Square

Officials open temporary ‘pop-up’ park at Willoughby Square
Photo by Kevin Duggan

The city unveiled a small temporary park in Downtown Brooklyn as a preview to a larger planned green space on Tuesday.

Honchos at a quasi-public development corporation, local business boosters, and community reps celebrated the official grand opening of the green space on Willoughby Street between Duffield Street and Albee Square W. — dubbed the “Willoughby Square Pop-Up” — as a 15,000-square-foot refuge from the hustle and bustle of America’s Downtown.

“It’s a place for people to use throughout the day to come and have breakfast, have lunch, or come after work or at weekends to play with their children on the turf — really just to create some breathing space in Downtown Brooklyn for people to enjoy and relax,” said Rachel Loeb, the chief operating officer of the city’s Economic Development Corporation, the agency spearheading the project.

The interim park — which is equal in size to about three basketball courts — exists as a featureless astro-turf lawn surrounded by a gravel walkway and picnic tables, which will serve work-weary desk jockeys as a “passive park” for one year, until the city demolishes it ahead of the summer 2020 ground-breaking of the recently-revived 1.15-acre Willoughby Square Park project, which will be about three times larger than the pop-up and is scheduled to wrap construction in 2022, according to Loeb.

“It’s something we could execute very quickly… [and] finally, after a long time deliver on some of the open space promises that we made to the community,” she said.

Willoughby Square Park’s fate hung in the balance after officials announced the city had failed to close a deal in January with Long Island-based developer American Development Group to build the meadow for an original $80 million price tag, which would have included a high-tech subterranean garage beneath it.

The firm’s head Perry Finkleman sued the city in May for allegedly thwarting their construction effort, which he announced one day after the city revealed its revamped plan without the builder.

At the opening ceremony, Loeb maintained the Economic Development Corporation’s stance of refusing to comment regarding ongoing litigation

The park was sold to locals as a community giveback amid a controversial 2004 rezoning, which has allowed developers to erect massive skyscrapers in the area over the last decade-and-a-half. Loeb acknowledged the glacial pace of the parks project, which kicked off in 2010.

“We needless to say had overcome a few hurdles to make it to the ribbon cutting today,” she said.

Nevertheless, nearby office workers flocked to the park’s umbrella-topped tables for their lunch, with one employee of the adjacent Chase Bank building saying that the park was a welcome addition to a rapidly changing neighborhood.

“I think it’s a great addition to Brooklyn life,” said Leonid Bystrik. “20 years ago this place used to be like a dump more or less, now it’s getting a new face. It’s great to see new developments and to see people use the park, especially in the summertime.”

Bystrik’s colleague agreed, saying that the park was a refreshing change of scenery from the omnipresent din of construction in the area.

“It’s really nice, because all we had previously was just construction surrounded by tall buildings,” said Patrick Xu. “Having an actual green space here in front of where we work, it’s great.”

Loeb was joined at the ceremonial midday ribbon cutting by Regina Myer, the head of the local business booster Downtown Brooklyn Partnership, the district manager of Community Board 2 Robert Perris, and Father Mark Lane of the nearby Catholic church St. Boniface.

Councilman Stephen Levin (D-Downtown Brooklyn) barely made it in time for the ceremony, and arrived by jogging across the new green, apologizing to officials and reporters for his tardiness.

Reach reporter Kevin Duggan at (718) 260–2511 or by e-mail at kdugg[email protected]glocal.com. Follow him on Twitter @kduggan16.
Making it official: Downtown Brooklyn councilman Stephen Levin cuts the ceremonial ribbon, along with the Economic Development Corporation’s chief operating officer Rachel Loeb, Downtown Brooklyn Partnership president Regina Myer, Community Board 2’s District Manager Robert Perris, and Father Mark Lane of St. Boniface church.
Photo by Kevin Duggan