Smells like a winner! Greenpoint sewage plant gets a tourism center

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Greenpoint’s toilet water is now a tourist attraction.

City officials opened the taps on a new visitor’s center at the Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant on Saturday, ushering in a wave of fecally focused tourists eager to get a whiff of the place.

Built in 1967, the plant is in the midst of a $5-billion upgrade that began more than 10 years ago, enabling the construction of new sewage pumps and the addition of six egg-shaped digesters that stand out on the Greenpoint skyline.

The visitor’s center will bring the magic of sewage treatment closer to scores of public schoolchildren and inquisitive neighbors wondering how to locate the exact source of that smell and figure out why hasn’t it gone away yet.

Located at the plant’s entrance off Greenpoint Avenue, the center is a mixed concrete and glass structure that sits on a curved water sculpture. The fountain, designed by legendary artist Vito Acconci, spews water that has been treated by the sewage plant, though city officials recommend that tourists not drink the filtered fluid because bacteria could be growing in it. (Don’t drink the water is, after all, a familiar refrain for travelers.)

The center features an array of family-friendly activities and scale models to educate children of all ages about the region’s water cycle. From the second floor, guests have a birds eye view the plant’s sewage pumps churning away as they receive hundreds of millions of gallons of wastewater before treating and discharging it into the city’s waterways.

But will it attract tourists?

Who knows, but Borough President Markowitz certainly thinks it should.

“I’ve been to lesser attractions in other cities,” sniffed the world-traveling Beep.

Others did not share Markowitz’s enthusiasm.

British guest Kendal Moran said she “probably wouldn’t” visit the visitor’s center again if she ever comes back to Greenpoint.

Peter Gyory, 15, is even less sure, saying that it would not be the ideal place for a high school field trip but “it would be a fun place if I were in elementary school,” but only if the fountain was on.

Even Greenpoint resident Paul Turci, who visits the plant once a month as part of a community monitoring committee, conceded that the idea of visitor’s center at a sewage plant was a little weird. Turci, a teacher in the Bronx, hoped to bring his class of science students to the plant to get a closer look at the civil engineering involved in treating city’s wastewater and get a tour of the facility from popular plant manager Jimmy Pynn.

“I think it is very progressive for the city to do this,” said Turci.

Newtown Creek Visitors Center [329 Greenpoint Ave. between Humboldt and N. Henry Streets in Greenpoint, (718) 595-3506]. Hours: Tuesday and Thursday, 9:30 am to 4 pm by appointment; Friday and Saturday, noon to 4 pm.

Updated 2:30 pm, May 20, 2010
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