Don’t downplay Gansevoort playing-field need: Community

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BY ALEJANDRA O’CONNELL-DOMENECH | A recently released summary of community feedback on the design of Gansevoort Peninsula is inaccurate, according to Community Board 2 residents.

The summary drafted by the Hudson River Park Trust states that community members want the 5.56-acre space to sport a soccer field, open green space and some sort of water-related feature, such as a beach or intertidal habitat.

Participants at a March 26 park-planning workshop added features to Gansevoort Peninsula that they would like to see there, such as a soccer field or dog run. (Photo by Alejandra O’Connell-Domenech)

The peninsula is a remnant of when Manhattan’s Lower West Side extended out to a 13th Ave. It is located between Gansevoort and Little W. 12th Sts., across from the Whitney Museum of American Art.

Since early March, the Trust and its contracted designers, James Corner Field Operations, have held a presentation, a Q&A session and two small group-planning events to solicit community input, with the most recent of these on March 26.

“Most of the small working groups — even those dominated by people with strong preferences for particular program elements — endeavored to create balanced ‘plans’ for Gansevoort,” the Trust’s summary says regarding the March 26 event.

Zoe Moore, left,  and Jordis Rosolinsky, both 11, watched as adult participants mapped out how they feel Gansevoort Peninsula should look. The two young friends play soccer with the Downtown United Soccer Club and hope that the space will include a soccer field. (Photo by Alejandra O’Connell-Domenech)
Zoe Moore, 11, showed what she would like to see on Gansevoort Peninsula — she added a soccer field — as her friend Jordis Rosolinsky, also 11 and a fellow Downtown United Soccer Club member, watched. (Photo by Alejandra O’Connnell-Domenech)

“In the end, all groups had some form of beach and a variety of field sizes to accommodate passive recreation and other desired programs.

“For a huge constituency, the size of the site supports the strong request for large sports fields. The Trust and design team have been made aware of the community petition signed by more than 2,000 individuals requesting a field measuring 75 x 120 yards (225 x 360 feet) as the highest priority for the site.”

The majority of attendees at last week’s C.B. 2 Parks and Waterfront Committee meeting said that, with a general lack of soccer fields in the borough, plus the future of Pier 40 unclear, a sports field is desperately needed. Most were willing to compromise “balance” in order to secure a full-sized soccer field.

Field space and a beach are among the top community requests for Gansevoort Peninsula. (Photo by Alejandra O’Connell-Domenech)

At the March 26 planning event, which ran three hours, the Trust set up tables inside the new 75 Morton St. middle school, and community members broke into small groups. They placed paper cutouts of a soccer field, trees and fences, among other things, on cardboard maps of the peninsula. Participants said that access to the water was important, as well as green space. But there was a strong sentiment among those present for the playing field, which could accommodate a range of sports, including soccer and baseball. Before the event began, representatives from the Downtown Soccer League spoke about the need for a field. Every table of participants made sure to place a soccer field on their map.

According to Rich Caccappolo, chairperson of the C.B. 2 Parks and Waterfront Committee, the committee was given the impression that a Trust representative would formally present the summary’s findings at last week’s meeting. Instead, a Trust representative — its senior vice president of design and construction — listened to community members speak about the summary, then answered a few questions at the end.

The summary and the absence of a formal presentation by a representative left many community members skeptical of the Trust’s intentions on Gansevoort. Several attendees were unaware that a Trust representative was present at the meeting. Although the Trust V.P. was there and took questions, by all accounts he did not do a good job of identifying himself to the meeting.

Daniel Miller, a member of the C.B. 2 committee, said he did not become aware until afterward that a Trust official had actually been there. Miller added he would have liked to have seen more representation of the Trust’s senior leadership at the meeting — such as Madelyn Wils, the Trust’s president, and/or Noreen Doyle, its senior vice president — as well as someone from James Corner, the chosen designers for the project.

Brainstorming park ideas for Gansevoort Peninsula at the workshop was a handful. (Photo by Alejandra O’Connell-Domenech)

In fact, Will Rogers, president of Downtown Soccer League, warned that “special interests” could well be angling for the prime park space, enabled by the Trust.

“At this time in our lives,” Rogers said, “when we are looking at what is going on with government and the challenges that are being faced between the choices of special interests and what is best for the community…this is a microcosm of our entire country’s future playing out in a small way here.”

Tom Frambach, of Downtown United Soccer Club, explained a community-created design for Gansevoort Peninsula that includes a soccer field. Until recently, the property was used by the Department of Sanitation for parking its garbage trucks. (Photo by Alejandra O’Connell-Domenech)
A somewhat different idea for Gansevoort, with passive recreation space winding through the peninsula. (Photo by Alejandra O’Connell-Domenech)

Some attendees at the committee meeting speculated that the Trust wants to please neighbors of the park, such as the Whitney Museum. The Whitney will be installing “Day’s End,” a sculpture of a “ghost pier” by artist David Hammons, off the south edge of Gansevoort.

A Trust spokesperson, though, said that the planned Whitney installation “does not limit other programming decisions at Gansevoort.”

“We are looking for a design that makes more for the local community and less a destination,” Caccappolo said. He added that the a park on Gansevoort should be a space to get away from the madness of nearby attractions like the High Line.

“We hope that the Trust will not just engage with us but consult us on how to best strike that desire,” he stated.

As one participant presented a concept for Gansevoort Peninsula, another kept working on his own idea for it. (Photo by Alejandra O’Connell-Domenech)

The Parks and Waterfront Committee is currently drafting a resolution on the status of community desires for Gansevoort Peninsula that will be presented at the next C.B. 2 full-board meeting.

“We appreciate all the input we’ve received for the Gansevoort Peninsula project thus far,” the Trust spokesperson said. “These meetings are designed to provide a forum for community members and general public to share thoughts and ideas for the project, and we encourage everyone to participate. We are now working with our designers and engineers on a feasible concept design.”