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Kris
June 9th, 2003, 08:52 AM
June 9, 2003

Behind Gates, an Old Fort Awaits Life as a City Park

By PATRICK HEALY

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City officials estimate that Fort Totten, in Queens, will attract 450,000 visitors a year, not including the geese already strolling the grounds.

It has taken more than 30 years of planning, waiting and debate to begin converting Fort Totten from a defunct military base into a waterfront city park. And that has been just the prologue.

This summer, the federal government will transfer ownership of Fort Totten, on the northeastern corner of Queens, to the city, making it at last a New York park. At least officially.

The city is now grappling with how to find $25 million to renovate the park, formerly a Civil War fort, and how to manage it without disrupting life in the nearby neighborhoods of Bay Terrace and Bayside. And city officials still cannot say when the security at the front gates will be replaced by the familiar maple leaf sign that marks the entrance to city parks.

Residents worry that the park and its estimated 450,000 annual visitors from within and beyond the area could make for a nightmare.

Warren Schreiber, the president of the Section One Bay Terrace Co-op, said the park could cause traffic tangles and parking shortages on crowded streets if it is not managed well. He said he also feared an increase in litter, rodents and crime.

"There's a lot of apprehension within the community," Mr. Schreiber said. "We'd like to have a park we can be proud of. Right now, it's too soon to tell."

The Parks Department plans to license two old brick buildings so they can be used as a restaurant and a catering hall. Parks officials said the businesses could generate $1.5 million a year toward maintaining the land, but the proposal has already incensed residents like Joyce Shepard, the owner of The Queens Alternative, a community newspaper. Ms. Shepard said the catering plans amounted to an invasion.

"When you tell any community that there is going to be an influx of traffic and they're going to lose their parking, they're not going to say, `Oh, great, bring it on,' " Ms. Shepard said. "We are fighters, and we're not going to allow anyone to abuse us."

The city is aware of residents' complaints and is studying traffic flow around the fort, said the Parks Department's director of planning, Joshua Laird.

"There are things that come with having a public park," Mr. Laird said. "The fact is, the community made it clear that they wanted a park, which is why we've been involved all these years."

Bernard Haber, who served on the Bayside Community Board for 30 years, said neighbors would warm to Fort Totten once security loosened.

"When it becomes a real park and you have unlimited access, then I think it'll become a neighborhood park," Mr. Haber said. "It's probably the choicest property in all of Queens County. You can just sit there and meditate like Walden Pond."

Built in 1857, Fort Totten was equipped to defend waterways into New York City, but it served mainly as an Army training base until it was closed in 1995.

The years have taken their toll.

On the old Civil War battery, the guardrails have rusted and small stalactites hang from the ceilings. A shag of poison ivy and bindweed has spread like a shadow across the grounds.

There is little parking, electric service is spotty and the century-old sewer systems are prone to backing up, said the executive director of the Bayside Historical Society, Geraldine Spinella. The city also needs to raze a cluster of 1960's town houses to open up more park land.

Nonprofit groups will occupy nine other historic buildings and pay to renovate them.

With New York in its worst financial crisis in a generation, Mr. Laird said, the Parks Department has no money for repairs.

Ms. Spinella said: "A lot of things that were going to happen aren't going to happen for a while. There'll be a change, but I think it'll be years before anybody notices the change."

The Queens parks commissioner, P. Richard Murphy, said one has to see the fort to get a glimpse of its potential.

On a recent visit, Mr. Murphy dodged raindrops dripping from the leaking ceilings and traversed the fort's unlighted tunnels.

He imagines children peering at the Throgs Neck Bridge through the haze, park rangers leading tour groups through caverns that were once packed with munitions and joggers running along Little Neck Bay.

"Right now, it's a buried treasure," Mr. Murphy said. "Everything is wonderful plans and ideas that have yet to be executed."


Copyright 2003 The New York Times Company

ZippyTheChimp
June 9th, 2003, 09:52 AM
Fort Totten is on a penninsula in Little Neck Bay. The water views, including both Throggs Neck and Bronx Whitestone bridges, will be terrific. There is already a greenway on the bay that runs along the Cross Island Parkway that should connect to the fort.

Great news, if they don't screw it up.

billyblancoNYC
June 9th, 2003, 11:36 AM
It's a beautiful walkway, over a mile, I think. *The Fort is a great place. *It will truly be a great, great space for people, once the NIMBYs shut up and realize that.

I used to go there and sit on the rock-jetty and look at the water, Throgs Neck bridge, etc. *Good addition to the city's park system.

Kris
July 28th, 2004, 09:43 AM
Fort Totten Finally Transferred To City

By Peter Gelling

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After a long delay caused by legal red tape, historic Fort Totten will he officially transferred to the city Parks Department this week.

Congressman Gary Ackerman announced major steps have been completed to transfer Bayside’s Fort Totten from the federal government to the City of New York for use as a sprawling public park.

Ackerman said the National Parks Service has signed the deed to the property as well as the official transfer letter. All that now remains is the city’s signature, which is expected to be inked shortly by Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe.

“Acquiring the land for the community has been a very long road but we’re finally there,” Ackerman said. “Now Fort Totten will be transformed into one of the region’s most beautiful and creative parks open to all.”

A portion of the Fort had already been transferred to the New York City Fire Department last year, but Parks was still waiting for its portion, which had been stalled at the federal level. Now, though, Parks will be able to open the park to the public, including a restaurant and a museum.

Community representatives are hoping to draw young people to the former Army fort, where they can learn about the Civil War without traveling to Gettysburg or Saratoga.

“Now we’ll have a place right here in Queens,” State Senator Frank Padavan said during a ground-breaking ceremony last year.

At the same ceremony, Borough President Helen Marshall called the Fort “a real tourist attraction,” and said, “It is a national relic and has been neglected for too long.”

The transfer had been delayed because of legal details that had to be worked out between the Parks Department, the National Parks Service and the Army.

Fort Totten was built in 1857, but was shut down by the federal government in 1995 as part of military base closings across the nation due in large part to the ending of the cold war. Pursuant to the community’s wishes, the property—among the most prime pieces of waterfront real estate in New York—was awarded to the city for use as public parkland rather than commercial development. A piece of the land was also given to the Fire Department for use as a training academy.

“This is a great day for the community,” Ackerman said. “Years of planning and bureaucratic maneuvering are finally over. Fort Totten Park is now a reality.”

www.queenstribune.com

krulltime
July 29th, 2004, 11:05 AM
City Allocates 50 New Acres Of Parkland In Queens

JULY 28TH, 2004

One of the city's greenest boroughs will soon be even greener, with the addition of 50 acres of parkland.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe made the announcement at the Fort Totten army base in Queens Wednesday.

The land is being turned over to the city by the federal government for $1. It was a deal nine years in the making.

The mayor says plans for the new park will be completed by the end of the year, and they don't call for any housing.

“No, we're not going to do that,” said Bloomberg. “We always need the property taxes, but the reason that people want to live in this city are the parks and the cultural institutions and the fact that there are jobs here. This is the perfect space to keep as a park. I think a lot of the local community institutions can use some of the buildings for their meetings and get-togethers, and I think down the road it will evolve like every other park. The demand never ends for open spaces.”

“The beautiful playing fields, the waterfront walkways, the adaptive re-use of the historic fort - it's really one of the most spectacular public spaces in the entirety of the city of New York,” said Benepe.

The price tag was low, but cost of renovating the park land will be a whole lot higher. The city says it's not sure how much it will cost, but the parks department says the renovations will be paid through public and private partnership.

"There will be capital allocations from various parts of city government, the City Council, from the state legislature, federal grants, state grants, and probably private dollars as well," said Benepe.

Renovations on the property have already started with money secured by Borough President Helen Marshall and State Senator Frank Padavan. The senator, the borough president, and the city plan to submit designs for the park by the end of the year.

"What we can see happen here over the years depends to a large extent on working with the local community to see what their needs are," said Benepe.

The 77th Regional Command Unit will continue to use the remaining 38 acres of the property. With the park's breathtaking views some suggested the mayor develop housing on the land. The mayor say no way.

"I think a lot of the community institutions can use some of the buildings for their meetings and their get-togethers and I think down the road it will evolve like any other park," said Bloomberg. "The demands never end for open spaces."

Fort Totten is a Civil War-era army base that overlooks Long Island Sound. About 40 acres of the site will remain an army base, which is home to the 77th Regiment.

http://www.ny1.com/ny/Boroughs/SubTopic/index.html?topicintid=3&subtopicintid=10&contentin tid=41975