The long-awaited deal to expand Jackson Heights’ Travers Park has been finalized.
Councilman Danny Dromm (D-Jackson Heights) and other officials involved announced that they successfully purchased more than 25,000 square feet of space from the Garden School, located across the street from Travers Park, on Thursday.
The concrete athletic area adjacent to the school will be open to the public after school hours, and connected to Travers Park across the street by permanently closing 78th Street between 34th Avenue and Northern Boulevard to traffic. The street closure has already been approved by the community board and the city, Dromm said.
“I couldn’t be in a better mood,” Dromm enthused at the press conference announcing the deal. The councilman and area residents, including members of Community Board 3 and the Jackson Heights Beautification Group, have struggled for nearly two years to make the park a reality. A competing bid for the yard from a developer last year nearly nixed the deal.
But after rounds of negotiations, the school — which has experienced financial difficulties — agreed to sell the lot for $5.92 million, according to Deputy Mayor Howard Wolfson. Of that sum, $4 million came from Dromm’s capital funds; another $1 million came from the Mayor’s Office; and the remaining $1 million came from Borough President Helen Marshall’s office.
An additional loan from the philanthropic group the JM Kaplan Fund had to be secured to provide the Garden School with much-needed capital immediately, while the monies from the sale are processed, according to Wolfson.
Marshall called the sale a “win-win” for the Garden School and the residents of Jackson Heights, which all acknowledged is in dire need of more green space. As a result of the acquisition and the closure of 78th Street, Travers Park will nearly double in size, according to Dromm. The street is already closed in the summers.
The Parks Department will manage the new space, Dromm said. The design phase for the park will take about a year, he said. While Travers Park has basketball and handball courts, as well as a playground, it lacks any grass. After the press conference, Dromm said he hopes natural turf will be a part of whatever design is approved for the new space.
Referring to all the institutions that had to come together to make the sale happen, the Garden School’s headmaster, Richard Marotta, said that “what we saw happen here is really quite splendid.” Ed Wesley, president of the Jackson Heights Beautification group, certainly thought so. He was so thrilled he gave Marotta a bottle of whiskey, as promised.
“I told him if he gets this deal done I’ll get him a bottle of Jameson,” Wesley said as he offered it to Marotta.