Parks with purpose
Union City unveils new musical water park; outdoor activities begin for summer
by Gennarose Pope
Reporter Staff Writer
Jun 03, 2012 | 1620 views | 0 0 comments | 4 4 recommendations | email to a friend | print
QUALITY OF LIFE – The Michael Leggiero Park, full of giant musical instruments that cool kids off with shooting streams of water, was opened to the public on May 19. Left to right: Christopher Irizarry, Lois Leggiero, Brian Stack, and Stephen Sweeney.
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“When we drove by this property and [Mayor] Brian Stack told me, ‘You know what we should do here? We should create a park with musical instruments that shoot water,’” Union City Commissioner and North Hudson Community Action Corporation (NHCAC) CEO Christopher Irizarry told the crowd of hundreds gathered before the unveiling of the brand new Michael Leggiero water park, “I looked at him, and I said, ‘Brian, I think you’re getting to that point where you’re losing your mind.’”

Engineered by Ralph Tango and landscaped by Alicia Morejon, the park was named after community icon Michael Leggiero, who took over NHCAC in 1971. Leggiero passed on in 2004.
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“Things like parks are quality of life issues that can make a difference in young people’s lives.” –Senate President Stephen Sweeney
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“[Leggiero] served the neediest of the community – the poor – so it’s a great tribute today that this park be named after him,” Stack told the crowd May 19. “Today is also very important for all the children of Union City, my favorite residents. Today is a special day when you put a smile on a child’s face, when you keep a child out of harm’s way, and a safe park such as this is so important.”

Children bounced in blow-up houses, residents danced to live salsa music, and local dignitaries joined Leggiero’s family in celebration of both the park, and his life.

Located on the corner of Park Avenue and 39th Street, Michael Leggiero Park boasts a wading pool and four giant brightly-colored instruments that do indeed shoot water. It makes up one of dozens of parks in Union City, each with its own particular dedication and function.

The musical water park took over a year to put together. There were oil tanks to clear, environmental issues to clean up, and the property that had sat unused is now a colorful way for kids to cool off. Once the large outdoor screen is constructed within the next week or two, Commissioner Lucio Fernandez said, locals will be able to watch movies and cartoons outdoors.

The man behind the park

“When Michael entered a room, you felt it change,” Irizarry continued. “He was a person filled with compassion, a person who wanted only to live to help his fellow man and who put his heart and his soul into everything he did. Every single time I sit in that chair as director, I think, ‘What would Michael do?”

Leggiero built NHCAC up from a small, dying health center to a far-reaching, 22-site, more than 750 employee-run corporation it is today. It provides health care, day care, Head Start programs, emergency food and shelter, and more.

So why name a park full of water-spouting musical instruments after him?

Leggiero was also the city’s commissioner of public parks and recreation, and he loved music, his family and friends recounted. He led worship at his church and he sang regularly at functions. His young niece and nephew, Nicole Alcott and David Tarantino, followed his lead and sang in their uncle’s honor.

“Michael Leggiero’s lifelong dream was that the site at 5301 Broadway in West New York would once become our building,” Irizarry announced. “He fought his entire life to make that a reality and I am proud to announce the NHCAC has reached an agreement with the Archdiocese of Newark to purchase that building.”

The building will be dedicated to and named after Leggiero.

City of parks

“Things like parks are quality of life issues that can make a difference in young people’s lives,” state Senate President Stephen Sweeney, who had driven two hours to attend the dedication ceremony, announced that day. “It’s not seeing what’s not there, but what could be there, and how we can lift this community.”

The Skate Park on 38th Street has a basketball court and five ramps where roller skaters and skateboarders can practice their tricks. Pablo Duarte Park on 33rd Street and New York Avenue provides locals with water activities.

Peru Plaza on Central Avenue and 24th Street has a basketball court and water activities for kids, and the park on 17th and West Street has a playground. Washington Park provides residents with baseball fields for summer sporting.

The city has three pools that are free for residents. Ron Dario Swimming Complex on 47th Street has an indoor pool with a retractable roof. Firefighters Memorial Park on 9th and Palisade Avenue boasts an Olympic size pool with stunning Manhattan views, spray pools, and a passive area for lounging. And the indoor pool at Bruce Walter Recreational Center on 5th and West Street offers all-year-round swimming for residents.

Ellsworth Park on New York Avenue between 23rd and 24th hosts theatre performances every Thursday night at 7 p.m., and Duarte Park on 33rd has musical and theatrical performances on Tuesday nights.

For more information, call the Department of Public Affairs at (201) 348-5735.

Gennarose Pope may be reached at gpope@hudsonreporter.com

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