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Queens Chronicle

Astoria dives into entertainment

$4.5M, 4X original price, plan to turn diving pool into an amphitheater

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Posted: Thursday, February 28, 2013 10:30 am | Updated: 10:46 am, Thu Mar 7, 2013.

A plan to transform Astoria Park’s former diving pool into a community entertainment space should break ground in 18 months, with a steeper than expected price tag.

The defunct iconic three-tier Art Deco dive tower is located along the East River in the Astoria Pool complex — the city’s largest and oldest public pool, which was used as a qualifying location for two summer Olympics.

The blueprint includes filling in the dive pool and tank with concrete and bricks, restoring and repurposing the dive tower, building a new entrance for the amphitheater and adding two additional exits required by code.

The circumference of the pool itself will be covered in a stone pattern to evoke the illusion of water, in an ode to the dive tank that will be removed, according to Nora Meehan, an architect for the Parks Department. Also to keep the look of the dive pool, the design will keep the tower, but remove the bottom ladder to prevent people from climbing up it.

Other small historical diving boards surrounding the diving pool will be removed. The space will be wheelchair-accessible from the parking lot to the stage and will additionally include a concession wall on premises for patrons.

Kevin Quinn, director of architecture for capital projects for the Parks Department, noted that it would be possible to restore the tank to its original function if the need ever arose.

“We’ve been looking forward to this for a long time,” Councilman Peter Vallone Jr. (D-Astoria), who helped secure funds for the project, said at the meeting. “Hopefully, if I’m borough president next year, I’ll be able to put in more money to make it even better — and even more magical.”

The project was orginally projected to cost $1 million but because of the hefty price of the materials the price tag soared up to $4.5 million, according to the Parks Department.

“It’s an enormous amount of concrete,” Quinn said of filling the dive tank and the area that needs to be covered.

The cost of materials nixes permanent bathrooms, but as the budget stands that now cannot be rectified, Quinn said. Portable bathrooms have been offered as a solution.

“Either we have a bunch of restrooms with no reason for being there or we have a stage. We can’t do both,” Quinn said, noting how expensive plumbing construction is.

The project first went on the Queens Capital Funding request list in 2006, on behalf of Community Board 1, as the unused space continued to deteriorate. The pool was drained and filled with gravel because of damage.

The Parks Department’s goal was to transform the diving tank area into an amenity, because the pool facility’s water system could no longer support it for its original purpose.

“It’s a wonderful venue for an area starved for performance space,” CB 1 member Frances Luhmann-McDonald said.

The planned facility will hold 500 people — a number based on the current number of exits.

“If this is a true success and we want to expand it, we can add more exits to the facility and increase the amount of people we can accommodate up to about 2,500,” Quinn said.

The construction plan is in the preliminary stage; it needs official public review and approval by the city Landmarks Preservation Commission to move forward.

Though many months away, a resident in attendance voiced concern over performance logistics down the line that were not addressed at this preliminary stage by Parks officials.

“Is it going to be affordable? Is it going to be ticketed?” asked Ilana Teitel, a volunteer from nonprofit Green Shores NYC who lives in the area. The organization works to make the waterfront of the East River environmentally friendly.

Teitel would like to know more about expected foot traffic, the use of generators for performances, loading area congestion and the impact portable bathrooms will have on the park.

Permits for performance and special events will be handled through the Parks Department and its Queens borough commissioner’s office, according to Quinn, who couldn’t elaborate further on those concerns as it’s not his jurisdiction.

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