[Photo by Albert Ve?erka/Esto, courtesy Weiss/Manfredi]
The plan to transform 30 acres of Long Island City's waterfront with a mixed-use development and modern urban park began, like many Bloomberg megaprojects, back in 2007, and now, finally, the first piece of Hunters Point South is a reality. The lengthy timeline isn't that surprising; what's surprising is that the first part to open won't be the housing, but rather the first phase of the 11-acre public park. Designed by Weiss/Manfredi and Thomas Balsley Associates, the park, described by Marion Weiss, is a green "charm bracelet" across the riverfront, with an esplanade linking different "heterotopias," from a dog run and playground to wetlands and a sandy beach. Mayor Bloomberg will officially open the park tomorrow, but it's already accessible to the public.
The design team, which consulted with ARUP for the park infrastructure, wanted to capitalize on the Manhattan skyline, with every section offering unobstructed views. Even the upland streets have skyline views, and they were made over with stormwater-filtering bioswales and plantings to be green corridors that lead visitors to the park. The park, combine with the new infrastructure and new streets, cost $66 million.
The park itself is mostly a manmade topography, formed of landfill from when the site was industrial. A large green oval, which Michael Manfredi calls the "Sheep Meadow of the park," anchors the newly opened five acres. It's part real grass, part artificial turf. "That was a tug of war with the Parks Department," said Weiss during a (very rainy) tour on July 1st. The Parks Department wanted artificial turf, and City Planning wanted real grass. Parks argued that real grass turns to dirt if it's overused, and considering the park is directly across the street from the development's new school (opening this fall), the oval is destined to be used for sports games. A compromise was reached, and there's a smaller inner circle of artificial turf, and a larger oval of real grass.
Next to the oval sits the pavilion, a structure that holds two buildings under one continuous accordian-like canopy. It provides shade (but does not protect against a torrential downpour), and holds a park maintenance facility, restrooms, a concession stand, and a raised plaza. Weiss and Manfredi both love how the pavilion and the oval interact, nothing that they "play off each other" to create a unique communal space. "The pavilion gives the park a stature," said Weiss. "It links it to the community." The canopy will eventually host 64 solar panels (they are not yet installed) that will power more than 50 percent of the park, and it's designed to accommodate enough panels to power the entire park in the future.
Moving south from the pavilion, there's a sandy beach, not-so-coincidentally located where the Water Taxi Beach used to be. To the north of the oval, visitors find a playground shaded by trees near the edge of the river, and an "interpretive rail garden" planted with colorful native grasses and flowers.
Working with multiple agencies and firms, according to Weiss and Manfredi, proved difficult. "Keeping the ambitions and expectations of all groups moving forward to something where the whole is greater than the sum of the parts" was the most challenging part of the project, according to Weiss.
[Photos from the very rainy July 1st tour]
In a post-Sandy city, the first question that comes to mind with new waterfront developments is "how did it fare during the storm?" Hunters Point South, it turns out, fared very well. "We were surprised at how well the water drained," said Manfredi. "We always anticipated that there would be a major storm." Every part of the park is design to take on water. After Hurricane Sandy, all of the major surfaces were undamaged and intact, and most of the trees survived because all grades in the park were calibrated to accommodate storms, so the tree roots were protected.
The second, southern section of the park will curl around the waterfront, reaching toward the entrance to Newtown Creek. This part capitalizes on the man-made landscape, with a 39-foot elevation and a cantilevered pier that juts out over the river and wetlands. While the first part incorporates more urban elements, the second section has a "wild ecological profile" with riparian trails that follow the river's edge.
Work has not yet begun on this portion, but Weiss and Manfredi say it's ready to be advanced. "The city wants to start fairly soon," says Manfredi, but phase two is contingent upon how fast the residential portion is developed." Work began on the first two residential buildings (925 units) in March, and the city issued an RFP for another 1,000 units in May.
UPDATE: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that the park cost $66 million to build. However, $66 million includes the cost of new infrastructure and new streets, as well as construction of the park. Additionally, the solar panels on the pavilion are not yet installed. Curbed regrets the errors.
· Weiss/Manfredi [official]
· Thomas Balsley Associates [official]
· Hunter's Point South coverage [Curbed]