Parks on Par

Parks on Par

Tucked into a bend of the East River, hard by the Bronx Whitestone Bridge, the desolate, 222-acre eastern section of Ferry Point Park is one of the largest undeveloped sites along New York City’s waterfront. Eleven years ago, the city and Ferry Point Partners, a group of private developers that included golf legend Jack Nicklaus, embarked on a plan to transform the old municipal landfill that occupied most of the site into a PGA tournament–level golf course. As part of the deal, Ferry Point Partners was supposed to build and maintain a seven-acre community park and a separate 20-acre waterfront park on the other side of the course.

The promise of the course and new public space touched off a development boom in Throgs Neck. Since 2000, hundreds of homes have been built near this dusty expanse, but the golf course devolved into a multimillion-dollar boondoggle, and the developers failed to do much beyond building a trench to vent methane from the former landfill. In 2008, several years after the contract with Ferry Point Partners was finally scuttled, the parks department took over the project.

Now, Throgs Neck residents will finally see some green. This fall, the first phase of the community park designed by Thomas Balsley Associates is due for completion. Designs for the waterfront park are now finished, and that project is expected to be complete by 2013.

Both planned park spaces will be a major upgrade over what the city originally settled for under its public/ private partnership with Ferry Point Partners. The new parks, which together are budgeted at $30 million, now include amenities such as a restroom facility in the community park that were not part of the original plan. In addition, under the previous design, Throgs Neck residents would have had to walk about three miles around the golf course and along a service road for the Hutchinson River Parkway to gain access to the waterfront park’s only entrance. Under the new plan, there will be additional entrances to the waterfront from both the adjacent residential neighborhood and from the community park.

The new design emphasizes a sustainable approach to landscape architecture that will require less fertilizer and more ecologically sensitive drainage systems, said Thomas Balsley, who did the original planning for both parks. “The Ferry Point Partners plan had a lot of mowed-lawn areas,” Balsley said. “But the parks department encouraged us to look at it in a more environmental way.”

The new plan for the waterfront calls for natural grasslands, wildlife habitat areas, and a tidal marsh. The community park, which will include a play area, basketball courts, and a baseball field, also features a more naturalistic treatment than it did under the previous plan. A stormwater detention area with an island accessed by a bridge will occupy about a third of that park. And the methane trench running around the edge of the community park will be concealed by tall plantings.

Instead of the familiar redbrick park buildings that predominate throughout the city, comfort stations designed by Karen Bausman + Associates are streamlined and in harmony with the surrounding landscape. Designed under the city’s **Design + Construction Excellence Program, the 800-square-foot restroom/ maintenance facility planned for the community park is primarily made of corrugated stainless steel with cinderblock wall sections covered with Boston Ivy. A softly curving roof touches the sky plane in a more naturalistic manner than would a rectilinear one.

Bausman said that her comfort stations represent a more contemporary approach to integrating the disciplines of architecture and landscape architecture. “For previous generations of architects, it was figure and ground,” she said. “A building can be thought of as a vertical landscape, and a landscape can be thought of as a relation between a built form and a natural form.”

Although public-private partnerships are often touted as a way to bring about better-designed public amenities, in this case the public sector fostered a more creative and financially viable approach. “Ferry Point Partners was never very upfront about how they were going to build these parks,” said Balsley. The city agency, he said, had a much more hands-on attitude: “The parks department staff knew what needed to be done.”

A version of this article appeared in AN 09.09.2009.