Borough elected officials, civic leaders and residents of Maspeth, Middle Village and Elmhurst this Monday joined Mayor Bloomberg in cutting the ceremonial ribbon on gleaming new Elmhurst Park.
The $20 million, six-acre green space, which sits on the site of the Elmhurst gas tanks, recently opened to the public, and has quickly become a popular park in what the mayor called one of “most densely populated areas” of the Big Apple.
“We have had to be creative to find ways for our city to accomodate this growth [in population],” Bloomberg said.
According to the mayor, the population of the area in which the park is located has skyrocketed 60 percent over the past 30 years.
“This community was in dire need of green space,” asserted Queens Borough President Helen Marshall.
The path to the finished 57th Avenue product was not an easy one, with the park coming to fruition nearly 10 years after the community began a concerted push for it.
At one point, the property, owned by then-KeySpan, was slated to be sold to a developer who would build a Home Depot, a self-storage facility and a Commerce Bank branch on the brownfield site. The Juniper Park Civic Association — led by President Bob Holden, Ed Kamperman, Manny Caruana, Tony Nunziato and his son, Anthony Jr. — adamantly opposed the plans and powered efforts, along with elected officials, including former City Councilmen Tom Ognibene and his successor, Dennis Gallagher, to pressure the utility company to sell the land to the city.
In the fall of 2003, Bloomberg became involved in the battle, even contacting KeySpan CEO Bob Catell to work out a deal, which was reached in November of that year.
The city purchased the property for $1.
“It’s got to be one of the best real estate deals since Peter Minuit bought Manhattan Island,” Bloomberg quipped on Monday. Two years later, the land was formally transferred to the city.
“It’s a home run, a dream that came true,” Tony Nunziato told the Chronicle. “We gave it to the city — they had to give it back to the people. We busted our backs and it was an unbelievable effort of people pulling together.”
Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe acknowledged the role the community, particularly the JPCA, played in helping to make the green space a reality.
“The neighborhood fought to get a park,” he said. “I salute you guys.” Assemblywoman Marge Markey (D-Maspeth) characterized the space as “a tribute to how great things can happen when government officials and community members work together.”
Rep. Joe Crowley (D-Queens and the Bronx) called Elmhurst Park a “wonderful victory for the entire community,” and praised Bloomberg for his stated commitment to making the Big Apple greener.
“One of [the mayor’s] greatest legacies is the amount of workable, livable green space he has added,” Crowley said.
Benepe noted that $3 billion worth of parks has been added to the five boroughs in the past nine years.
After calling the new park “a beautiful gateway to Maspeth,” City Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village) echoed her congressman cousin’s appreciation of Bloomberg’s efforts, and made sure the administration has not forgotten a nearby vacant patch of land which the community wants to be turned into a much-needed recreation destination.
“We’re still pushing for another park at St. Saviour’s,” she said.
A few finishing touches are still needed at the park. Construction on restrooms is slated to begin next month; portable lavatories are available. And as soon as the proper private funding is raised, a Vietnam veterans memorial will be installed.