2006-04-13 / Other News

Canarsie Park Renovation's Finally A Reality

By Neil S. Friedman

Clockwise from top left:St. Jude students Ginette Beauvoir (left) and Stacy Saint-Vil recite the Pledge of Allegiance with Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe; Lew Fidler and Benepe hold oversized copy of $5.56 million check the council member secured for the renovation; Parks Dept. schematic of changes coming to Canarsie Park.         Photos by Neil S. Friedman 
Clockwise from top left:St. Jude students Ginette Beauvoir (left) and Stacy Saint-Vil recite the Pledge of Allegiance with Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe; Lew Fidler and Benepe hold oversized copy of $5.56 million check the council member secured for the renovation; Parks Dept. schematic of changes coming to Canarsie Park. Photos by Neil S. Friedman For Canarsiens, any news about renovations at Canarsie Park is taken with a grain of salt because it has been discussed at various civic meetings for a long, long time. Actually, it's been at least four years, which, depending on your perspective may be a long time.

On Tuesday, the beginning of renewal of 36 of the park's 132 acres became a certainty when an official groundbreaking ceremony was held just west of the fieldhouse and it was announced that Phase One of the $6.5 million project would begin in May and continue for 18 months.

Adrian Benepe, commissioner of the city's Department of Parks and Recreation, ran off a list of amenities to be part of the restoration, including a state-of-the-art regulation cricket field, which he said is the fastest growing sport in the city, with bleacher seating for spectators, a music pavilion, a picnic grove with tables, drinking fountains, forested wetlands, meadows, perimeter fencing along Seaview Avenue, asphalt paths, modern security lighting and 200 new trees.

"The neighbors of Canarsie Park have worked hard to get this park upgraded," Benepe told a small crowd that included community activists and seventh and eighth graders from nearby St. Jude School. He also thanked City Councilman Lew Fidler and Borough President Marty Markowitz, who could not attend, for securing the funds for the renovation.

Fidler, who obtained more than $5 million for the start of renovation, has led the struggle to make sure the park got what it was promised six years ago. He began his remarks on Tuesday, citing Brooklyn icon Jackie Gleason - "How sweet it is!"

"It's been a long time coming," Fidler continued. "...It's been a crusade of mine to make sure the park was restored to its natural form...This ceremony is a fulfillment of a promise to give Canarsie a first-class park."

When the city's Department of Sanitation slyly and abruptly took over the southwest portion of the park and turned it into a compost site in 1998, angry residents and activists, led by Lenny Fogel, vice president of the United Canarsie South Civic Association, were upset that the city did it without conferring with anyone in the community. Shortly thereafter Henry Stern, the Parks commissioner at the time, promised the site would be short-lived and then returned "to it's natural state."

That guarantee was slow in coming, but one resident at the ceremony said, "It sounds like it'll be worth wait."

Fidler noted that there would be at least additional phases in the coming years, but Parks officials could not determine when the entire project would be finished. A second phase of the renovation, for which funding has not yet been allocated, is scheduled to include nature trails and a hilltop windmill. Benepe indicated the park would eventually have a roller rink and several community gardens.

When the city of Brooklyn purchased land to create Canarsie Park late in the 19th century, it originally stretched east from East 88th to East 93rd streets and south from Seaview to Skidmore avenues.

The park was extended several times in the 1930s and 40s with land from the Board of Estimate and the Department of Docks. Another parcel of land that had been previously used for temporary housing after World War II at the corner of Fresh Creek Basin and Seaview Avenue was added in the 1950s. According to the Parks Department, it is the fourth largest park in Brooklyn.

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