Even before the official ribbon cutting took place celebrating the formal opening of the First Street Park in the Power House Arts District last week, people were using it.
Tucked between “The One” luxury rental building and the Hudson Bergen Light Rail line, the park was the subject of controversy two years ago. But it has been since been fully restored.
On a chilly day, Mayor Steven Fulop and representatives for BLDG, the developer of “The One,” which rises next to the park, gathered for a quick ceremony.
Normally a dog park opening does not bring out the mayor. But in this case the park’s reopening had symbolic importance, since a number residents in the area were upset two years ago when the park was demolished and used as a staging area for construction of “The One.”
Two years ago, city officials – including Councilwoman Candice Osborne who represents the area – expressed outrage when the pocket park and its dog run were demolished without getting city approval first.
The city-owned pocket park was a rare piece of open space in a highly congested part of the city surrounded by residential towers criss-crossed by the light rail tracks and busy streets.
BLDG officials always said they would make improvements to the 8,000 square foot park near its building at 110 First St. But residents of the area objected when the plans were not presented to the Planning Board and the park vanished overnight.
Osborne was so outraged by the incident she refused to attend the ribbon-cutting of the luxury building, instead pressing the developers to move ahead with rebuilding the park. She said at the time she was under the impression BLDG was still obtaining approval for its park plans.
While the restoration of the park took far longer than “the few weeks” BLDG predicted at the time, as result of the conflict BLDG did finally meet with community groups, presenting the proposed plans for comment and approval. Some of the changes that were ultimately included in the new park came from feedback they received during those meetings, and these changes were also presented to the Planning Board as well.
A space for man and beast
The pocket park is used as a dog run and as a walkway for light rail passengers.
On Dec. 5 without fanfare Mayor Steven Fulop and representatives for BLDG cut the ribbon on the new and improved park.
The park’s revitalization includes green space and public seating and benches as well as tables for passive recreation that include chess boards. The park also has new landscaping and seating and synthetic grass made to create a “better smelling environment for pets. The dog park within includes space for small and large dogs.
Those from the neighborhood using the dog park said there are other options, such as a dog park at Newport Center, but the pocket park is very convenient to residents living in the immediate area.
The new design for the pocket park originally was to include outdoor amenities to accommodate a restaurant on the first floor of “The One,” but when the tenant became a nursery school, the design was changed, and the park includes a play area for young kids.
Open space is a significant problem for the area with only the walkway along the waterfront nearby. Hamilton Park and Newport Center park are too far for away for young children.
Mayor Fulop took a brief tour of the new park before cutting the ribbon, as local residents from the area passed by, or used the dog run.
Osborne, who did not attend the reopening of the park, said she was pleased with the reopening, even though she still believes the neighbors should have been allowed more information about its demolition and reconstruction.
“We need that park in that part of the city,” she said.
Al Sullivan may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.