Earlier this summer, the seven-and-a-half acre, $8.3 million East River State Park opened on the Williamsburg waterfront — running from North Seventh Street to North Ninth Street. While the formerly industrial area no doubt benefits from having a little extra green space courtesy of the New York State Environmental Bond Fund (with some extra money thrown in by the Borough President and Assemblyman Joseph Lentol), some local residents aren’t happy with the archaic state park policies like the ones that keep dogs out and send humans packing at 7:45 pm.
Beyond the odd regulations, community members feel burned by the state’s lack of communication. According to Community Board 1 District Manager Gerald Esposito, he only found out about the park’s opening from a constituent — despite having asked the state to keep him informed.
Not exactly the kid of impression new neighbors want to be making.
Rachel Gordon, the state’s director of New York City parks, spoke to GO Brooklyn about the strict rules, the history of the site and just what the future of the space might hold.
With the closest restaurants still a few blocks away, locals are buzzing that there may be dining carts coming to the park. Forget hot dogs and pretzels, rumor has it that the spaces will go to local businesses — who wouldn’t love to buy a DuMont Burger or a cone from the Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory? “The Parks Department is absolutely open to having concessions, like food carts,” said Gordon. “As long as it isn’t a permanent structure, we’d consider it.”
If you’re still bummed about not bringing your beagle, Gordon — a dog owner herself — doesn’t think you’re missing out. “This isn’t the kind of place I would even want to take my dog,” she said. “There is no dog run so your dog can’t go off leash. There aren’t any trails or paths to take your dog on.” She suggested trekking across the ’burg to bring your pooch to the dog run at McCarren Park where there’s more space to run and play.
Part of the appeal of a park in this neighborhood is to have an escape from the industrial buildings. So why is the park lacking in greenery? It might not boast lush vegetation yet, according to Gordon, but that’s because the space was completed as quickly as possible — people dropping millions on nearby new condos are surely grateful. Gordon said we’re in an “interim period,” and the Parks Department will continue to revamp the space. “The city has a park master plan that covers the entire waterfront,” said Gordon. “And is already very interested in plans for developing the Bushwick inlet next door.”
Esposito countered that the state was left in the lurch after a deal to build athletic fields for NYU fell through, leaving them to hastily construct the space.
“We’re not happy with the outcome,” he said. “They cleaned the property and planted a couple of trees — a park that does not make. While the state is well intended, they’re not spending the dollars necessary to make this facility successful.”
In the 1800s, the park site was a major shipping dock and home to a railroad line that the soon-to-be-demolished Domino Sugar Factory used to send their sweetener across the country. It’s been abandoned for decades, but walk around and you can still find the remnants of cobblestone streets and railroad tracks embedded in concrete.
It isn’t smart to go in the water. Besides the fact that there’s regular old East River sludge, Gordon said that the park’s waterfront is particularly dangerous because old railroad ties, nails and who knows what else lurk beneath the water. “At some point during the time of the railroad, a bulkhead was built by filling wood cages and pushing them up against the land to keep the railroad in tact,” Gordon said. “The remains of those are still in the water today.”