Start of Abingdon Sq. renovation comes suddenly


By Elizabeth O’Brien

Some Villagers cheered and others mourned when they learned workers began preparing Abingdon Sq. Park for renovation on Monday.

Changes to the park, led by the city Parks Department, had been planned for more than a year. But some residents said they didn’t expect workers to start tearing up benches at 8:00 a.m. Monday morning.

“We had no idea they were going to come to do this,” said Jim Brennan, a Village parks activist for 35 years. “It was the worst thing I ever saw in my whole career.”

Brennan said he had expected that the community’s protests would be enough

to stall or even prevent some of the changes. In addition to voicing objections at meetings, members of the Society for the Preservation of Old Abingdon Sq. and the West Village Committee have retained an attorney, Jack Lester, to help them fight the redesign. No legal action has been taken yet, Brennan said.

Lester did not return a call for comment.

The city’s plans for the park would take away 40 percent of the park’s open space, Brennan said. In addition, the plans are not compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, according to Margie Rubin, parks advocate for Disabled in Action.

But Aubrey Lees, chairperson of the Parks Committee of Community Board 2, said that those issues had been studied at numerous hearings and resolved.

“Whatever is built will be in compliance” with all applicable laws, Lees said.

Manhattan Borough Parks Commissioner William Castro said that the Parks Department worked closely with community members, including Rubin, and the mayor’s office to ensure full compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Under the redesign, the “Abingdon Doughboy” statue of a World War I soldier will be moved southward but will remain within the park’s fenced perimeters. Internal modifications will include the formation of a raised, kidney-shaped lawn towards the middle of the park. The 19th-century wrought-iron fence will be cut at the triangular park’s three corners to create new gates.

“We’re renovating a park that was perfect to begin with,” Brennan said.

The changes will crowd the park, stripping it of its open feel, he added. The intimate spaces added to the park might make it a more attractive place for homeless people to live, Rubin added.

Lees disagreed.

“I personally think, and many people do, that the park is a nightmare,” Lees said. “I know people feel very sentimental about existing environments, but it was really in need of a facelift.”

The nine-month, $749,000 renovation is expected to be completed next spring, Castro said: “It’s going to be a terrific new project.”