East Harlem residents worry city is lagging on upgrades to East River Esplanade

Two Harlem residents fish at a dilapidated dock at along the East River Esplanade near 111th Street. A neighboring pier at 107th Street is too worn down to be used by the public. (Photo: Alejandra O’Connell-Domenech)

BY ALEJANDRA O’CONNELL-DOMENECH | In order to fish along the East River, East Harlem resident Brandyn Rodriguez hops over a bent metal fence to cast a line on the graffitied remains of a rundown dock in between rust-covered piers at 107 and 114th Streets — both closed off to the public.

“Everything above 96th is pretty terrible,” said Rodriguez about the East River Esplanade. “It’s like it hasn’t been touched since it was built.”

Besides better access to the water, Rodriguez wishes that the East Harlem section of the esplanade could have green grass, even sidewalks, places to barbecue and working lamp posts, like it does below 96th Street.

“It looks like a dumping ground,” he said.

In February, the Parks Department announced that $75 million would be invested into renovating parts of the esplanade and greenway in Midtown, the Upper East Side and East Harlem to make the entire waterfront accessible to Manhattanites.

In April, that dream became one step closer to becoming a reality when renovations to the stretch of the esplanade between 63rd and 68th Streets were completed. According to Parks, of the the $75 million, $23 million was allocated to the section of the esplanade between East 62nd to East 63rd. But that was not enough to complete renovations along the stretch. Renovations were able to be completed because of help from Roosevelt University, which spent $15 million in upgrades, according to Patch, and started renovation work along the waterfront in 2015.

Of the $75 million, $16 million has been allocated by Parks for renovations along East 90 and East 94th Street. Parks has previously allocated $18 million for this stretch of the esplanade.

Conditions along the East River Esplanade along East Harlem have not improved much over the last decade, despite renovations done to lower parts of the greenway. (Photo: Alejandra O’Connell-Domenech)

For the section of the esplanade between East 114th and East 117th Streets, Parks has a total of $25 million in renovation funds, including $15 million from this year’s $75 million worth of mayoral funding.

According to Parks, the agency is planning on presenting renovation designs for the section of the esplanade and greenway to the community by the end of this year or by January 2020. The design process is scheduled to be completed by March of 2020 and construction set to begin by 2021. Currently Parks, is using consultants to conduct underwater investigative work to determine the condition of the section of the esplanade.

But despite city funding and a timeline, some residents and advocates are skeptical that things will change since improvements to the East Harlem section of the esplanade have been minimal since the city first allocated money — $35 million — towards the East River Esplanade renovations in 2014.

According to Jennifer Ratner, founder of Friends of the East River Esplanade 60th to 120th Street, and part of the East River Esplanade Task Force, the timeline for East Harlem renovations have been pushed back in the past.

“I understand that the infrastructure repairs are exceedingly complicated,” said Ratner. “But East Harlem deserves more.”