West Brighton’s newest waterfront park, Heritage Park, formerly Blissenbach/Staten Island Marina is a testament to what residents and community leaders can accomplish working together. It has been a collective effort that has taken 12 years to get the old marina transformed into a public park.
Heritage Park was recently in the news on October 27 , 2014, with a rescheduled ribbon cutting ceremony. It is the first storm resistant park in NYC and Super Storm Sandy was just one part of the long journey to get to this point. It truly takes a village to get a park acquired, planned and built. The recent news coverage and statement from current elected officials, however, tells only part of the story. Time passes and memories fade, so it is even more important for individuals involved in the process to share their experiences and lessons learned.
Many of us were frustrated with the lack of open space, especially along the waterfront communities, and after all, we are an Island! There was a clear need for more open space and recreational uses west of Snug Harbor. City and State funds seemed to go to Snug Harbor and the Staten Island Zoo, year after year, with little recreation or open space elsewhere on the North Shore of Staten Island.Don’t get me wrong, we appreciated these other sites, but we felt that the rest of the north shore communities were not getting their fair share of open space, instead we were left with contaminated properties used as junkyards, parking lots, auto repair and waste transfer stations.
There were many strong opinions, both new and veteran community leaders, but we agreed on the common goal – the need for more open space, along the waterfront and Blissenbach was a willing seller with approx.9.7 acres of land.
At the time, I was working at Northfield Community LDC in February 2000 as the Economic & Community Development Coordinator and lived in Port Richmond. I met many community leaders and residents who cared about improving their community. We kept crossing paths at Community Board #1, 120 Police Precinct community meetings and civic association meetings. We ended up joining together to advocate for the property that was up for sale by Mr. Blissenbach, known as the Staten Island Marina/Marine Power and Light after Linda Eskenas, a resident on Richmond terrace, Board member of Preservation League of S.I. and CB#1 shared this information and we organized as a coalition, with the goal acquiring the site. She had not been able to get NYC Parks to acquire property on the south side of Richmond terrace, considered the “last Green Hill” with Lenape Indian connection, which has houses there now.
Ellen Pratt of Protectors of Pine Oak Woods saw the merits of the old marina and we were fortunate to have the leadership from the most successful group on S.I. when it came to conservation of open space, Protectors of Pine Oak Woods. Ellen Pratt at the time and currently serves on the NY State Open Space Advisory Committee, which sets priorities for open space conservation and acquisitions. The members of Protectors of Pine Oak woods adopted this cause and brought many elected, city and state representatives to this site and demostrated its potential with a collective group , that made up the “new” group, the North Shoe Waterfront Coaition.
The experienced leaders shared their knowledge and many of the “newbies” , like myself, learned valuable lessons of working as a team and organizing behind a common goal. We learned to be very persistent.
The residents, community leaders, elected officials and organizations whom I worked with over the last 12 years included: Protectors of Pine Oak Woods, Natural Resources Protective Association, North Shore Waterfront Conservancy, North Shore Greenbelt, Community Board 1, Livingston Civic Assoc, Mariners Marsh Conservancy, Mariners Harbor Civic Association, Arlington Civic Assoc, Elm Park Civic Association, New Brighton Citizen’s Committee, Northfield Community LDC, Port Richmond Civic Association, Preservation League of S.I., S.I. Diver’s Association, S.I. Sportsman Association, Staten Island Future, St. Roch’s Girl Scouts, Staten Island Taxpayers Association, Regional Plan Association, New Yorkers for Parks and Trust for Public Land and West Brighton Community LDC.
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world”. and this became our mantra – a quote from Margret Mead.
It is important to acknowledge former elected officials who believed in the community’s vision for a park from the beginning. It was Councilman Jerome O’Donovan who was first to earmark $250,000 for capital funds for the park and former Councilman MaMahon, who made the park a priority as part of his “Gold Coast” campaign and carried funds over until it was fully funded.
I recall a trip to Albany with Ellen Pratt of Protectors of Pine Oak Woods and Linda Eskenas of Community Board 1, which was just the beginning of campaigning for this park. We met with the late State Senator John Marchi and former Assemblyman Robert Strainere and their influence proved very helpful. The S.I. Advance covered this story and over the years provided many updates to the public on the progress of the Blissenbach marina, which many of us called the “North Shore Waterfront Park”. But the name is not important, because many of us just wanted the park to open, even if the current name says little about the grassroots effort it grew out of.
By 2002 a Coalition met at one another’s homes and at Walker Park, with the key goal of creating the park in West Brighton and access to the waterfront throughout the north shore. The coalition was called the North Shore Waterfront Coalition. It later become North Shore Waterfront Conservancy, a formal not for profit organization. The Coalition included many groups, new and experienced community leaders working together. People have come and gone but this coalition really showed a unified voice for the proposed park at one time. I am proud to be a founding member.
We learned from Ellen Pratt and John Benguait, the importance of the NYS Open Space list. On Staten Island, Ellen Pratt of Protectors of Pine Oak woods and the Borough President’s office serve and continue to serve as representatives on this regional committee. This committee sets acquisition and conservation priorities, but only once a year. We learned that the process of adding the Blissenbach marina to the Open Space list would take time, and to be on the top priority, we would have to wait our turn…other sites were considered priorities too. We waited approximately a year before we could get the Blissenbach marina to the top of the list for funding eligibility. We were competing against other worthy Staten Island sites and NYC sites, but this caused differences in opinion amongst the members of the coalition. The property was listed from 2002- 2004 on the NYS Open Space Plan which was a crucial step in moving the proposal forward.
From firsthand experience the following Individuals, volunteered and worked tirelessly and should be acknowledged. They include: Catherine Baron of Mariner’s Marsh Conservancy; Richard Brown of Livingston Civic Association, John Benguiat, formerly of Brooklyn Borough President’s Office & Graniteville Resident; Lindy Crescitelli, New Brighton Citizens Committee; David D’Ermilio, Sunset hill Resident & formerly of Assemblyman Straniere’s office; Linda Eskenas – member of Community Board & Pres of North Shore Greenbelt; John Kilcullen, St. George Civic & Mariner’s Marsh Conservancy; the late Jack Latanzio of the S.I. Federation of S.I. Sportsmen; Michael McMahon, former President of Randal Manor Civic and Councilman and Congressman; William Morris, Arlington Community & Mariner’s Marsh Conservancy; the late Marty Pearsal, Preservation League of S.I. and Port Richmond resident; Anna Porter, resident of Port Richmond & Preservation League of S.I.; Ellen Pratt of Protectors of Pine Oaks Works; Tony Rose resident of West Brighton & S.I. Diver’s Association; James Scarcella, Natural Resources Protective Association (NRPA); Nan Smith, resident of Silver Lake & NSWC; the late Kerry Sullivan, Chair of Natural resources protective association; Beryl Thurman, former President of Port Richmond Civic and founding member of North Shore Waterfront Conservancy (NSWC) and the late Curt Ward, of Community Board #1.
We hosted tours of the proposed park for elected officials, NYC parks staff and residents; presented the proposal at numerous community meetings; met with elected officials and state/city representatives; organized letter and postcard campaigns; organized strategy meetings and I even coordinated the temporary oyster gardening before it was transferred to NYC parks and officially off limits until it officially became a park.
Reviewing information shared by Ellen Pratt of Protectors of Pine Oaks, in 2002,… she sets a great example – to seize every opportunity to promote the proposed park.. Ellen made sure to get the ear of Chris Zeppie, Chief of Environmental Planning for the NY-NJ Port Authority during a meeting to discuss the Great Kills Harbor proposed expansion. 10 days later and with more follow-up , he became a supporter of the park.
We were able to get Trust for Public Land’s support and funding was provided in 2004 by Port Authority of NY/NJ in the amount of 3.5 million dollars for aquisition. The property was transferred to the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation and would allow the Trust for Public Land, a nonprofit conservation organization, to create a lawn and meadow on the site and to develop an area for public parking.
Prior to the acquisition, it is important to mention the key support from former NYC Parks Commissioner Stern, former S.I. Parks Commissioner, Tom Paulo and Janet Cleaver , Chief of S.I. Parks, who saw the potential in this beautiful waterfront site and became advocated. Fortunately, current S.I. parks commissioner, staff and elected officials have continued their support and worked to get it open after Super Storm Sandy. Community Board #1 now has a waterfront committee, which did not exist in 2002 and has initiated a Greenway plan which has adopted many proposed sites from community residents and elected officials have helped get heritage Park completed.
With these efforts we have accomplished the goal of creating a new waterfront park in West Brighton, which will be enjoyed by future generations. It is 9.6 acres with about 6 acres under water. There is opportunities for more open space in West brighton, a densily popluated area with many poluting businesses.
The next step for Heritage Park is to let everyone know its open to the public, host community events, improve access by opening the parking lot and make community safety improvements to encourage residents to access the park safely. This is the reason for a community advocacy group, a ‘Friends’ group, so the community can now use the new park. Many residenst are not aware of the NYC park owned property, across the way from Heritage Park; the old car wash building seized due to tax liens, on the south side of Richmond terrace. Also, there is public land under the control of the DEP Sewage Treatment plant and MTA , which would allow additional access to the park, since there is only one entrance/exit to Heritage Park. We also have the former North Shore Railroad right of way, which some neighboring businesses utilize without paying rent but is publicly owned.
The inaugural meeting for the Friends of Heritage Park will be on Thursday, November 20th at 7:30 p.m. at Markham Garden Manor-Senior Apartments located at entrance on Richmond Terrace/ near North Brugher Avenue. Please RSVP to 347-746-9391 or Info@SiCommunityPartnership. This is a volunteer -led group working in cooperation with NYC Parks. All are welcome. refreshments served- Come Celebrate and voice your opinions.
Also visit us on www.facebook/heritagepark
Some Background Information:
NYS Open Space conservation projects are identified through nine Regional Advisory
Committees and public comments received through the Plan’s review process. the RACs, in consultation with DEC and OPRHP. Current Open Space Plan Proposal for NYC includes representive from S.I. Borough Hall and Protectors of Pine Oak Woods. Recommendations for the 2013-14 report can be made by can be made by December 17, 2014.
Staten Island North Shore Land use & transportation Study 2009
Written by and personal opinions by Angela D’Aiuto and this is not the official view of Staten Island Community Partnership, Inc. (SICP) We, SICP, are hosting the Friends of Heritage Park group and continue to advocate for public open space on Staten Island.
Angela is the founder and Executive Director of S.I. Community Partnership, Inc; Co-President of Greater Port Richmond Committee and Board member of Preservation League of Staten Island,Former Northfield LDC Economic & Community Development Coordinator, former Executive Director of West Brighton Community LDC, former Vice President of New Brighton Citizens Committee, a founding member of North Shore Waterfront Conservancy & former V.P, former board member of Lathrop Voorspy Memorial Scholarship and Awardee; former president of Business Professional Women’s Club of S.I., Young Careerist BPW-Regional. former NYC Park’s Volunteer of the Month-Veteran’s Park-Port Richmond, Recipient of Women’s History Month Leadership Award from the late Assemblyman John Lavelle.