By Megan McGibney
About 40 people gathered at the Little Red Schoolhouse Monday evening for CB2’s Parks & Waterfront Committee meeting. It was a chance for them to get a glimpse of what was being proposed for the interim renovation of Mercer Playground, which runs along Mercer Street between Bleecker and West 3rd Streets.
Ricardo Hinkle, from the Parks Department, and Steve Simon, the Manhattan Chief of Staff for the Parks Department, were there to unveil the proposed design, though Simon stood in the back as Hinkle did most of the presentation.
Hinkle displayed an image of the proposed redesign, which included colorful geometric shapes for street games, dotted lines for bike paths, and fences. It was based on what was discussed during a March 2019 meeting, where locals gave their input on what they wanted to see for the redesigned playground. Some of the top community suggestions at that meeting included a skate park, space for bikes and scooters, and space for seniors.
But not everyone on Monday was convinced with what they saw of the proposed design. Some were dismayed to see fences and so few entrances. Others expressed concern over the bike path, and a few even wondered about the homeless sleeping on the proposed benches.
“This park should be available to the whole community,” said a woman who did not like the fences. “It should be inviting to others, and it will feel like you’re boxed in.”
One man pointed out the bike paths may not work.
“It doesn’t make sense to have street games while older kids ride their bikes or scooters,” he said.
A man named Tim, who said he grew up with the park, went into detail how the benches will attract the homeless, who might create an encampment.
“There’s no break in the benches,” Tim said, pointing out the lack of dividers. “The homeless will use the water to shower. Their presence makes parents and their kids uncomfortable.”
He also brought up the likelihood of marijuana users going to the park in the spring and summer.
“You’re not going to stop people from smoking weed during their lunch break,” Tim said as a few attendants chuckled.
The NYU rep said breaks in the benches can be done, which made a few people bring up the budget for the playground. The budget for Mercer Playground is $385,000, which made some wonder if donations could be accepted. One woman requested a breakdown of the budget in order to “understand where the money is going.”
NYU pledged money for the playground’s renovation as part of its Core Plan in the neighborhood, which invests in local community projects. The Core Plan was agreed upon as part of NYU’s development projects in the area, which were opposed by much of the community.
The rep admitted that with a limited budget for the playground, there was only so much that could be done.
The meeting then had to move on to the next part of the agenda. About two-thirds of the attendants left between the sessions, with less than 20 staying behind.
This session saw a proposal to add the name Ray Pagan to the JJ Walker Park. Pagan, a legend in lower Manhattan and beyond, was a sports coach from 1976 to 2015.
One supporter, Michelle Rae Cruz, who runs the website IPlayedforRay.com, told everyone why she felt strongly about this proposal.
“Ray Pagan brought everyone together through sports,” she said as she read from her phone. “He was a man who did so much for nothing in return. We just want to show someone with a big heart was here.”
Her voice cracked as she explained how her teammates became attorneys, teachers and child advocates because of Pagan’s belief in them.
Steve Simon told Cruz and others looking for such a memorial, that the Parks commission has to make the decision, and they tend to look for community support.
With that, CB2 had to do its executive meeting, which ended the public part of Monday’s meeting.