A temporary slice of the long-stalled Willoughby Square Park opened this week as the city works toward a permanent green space promised to Downtown Brooklyn 15 years ago.
The NYC Economic Development Corporation (EDC) is in the midst of creating a more than one acre Willoughby Street Park between Gold and Duffield streets that was negotiated as part of a 2004 neighborhood rezoning. The project has “overcome a few hurdles” along the way, but now the city aims to move full steam ahead and wanted to give locals a taste of what’s to come, according to Rachel Loeb, the COO of EDC.
“While that park is being designed and getting ready for construction, it was important to us to open something and create some wonderful green space for the people of Downtown Brooklyn,” Loeb said at a Tuesday ribbon cutting ceremony for the “Willoughby Square Pop-Up.”
The temporary space, which spans 15,000 square feet on Willoughby Street, features a synthetic turf lawn with beach chairs and a pair of giant chess and checker boards for visitors to enjoy. Beside the lawn, Downtowners can lounge on colorful tables and chairs shaded by umbrellas on a graveled plaza. EDC brought the space together in just two months and will keep the pop-up open until next summer.
Locals quickly flooded the space, taking lunch breaks at the seating or sprawling out on the turf. “I think it’s a great addition to the neighborhood,” said Downtowner Jacob Meyers, who stumbled upon the new space while out for a jog. “There’s a lot of development and big buildings down here but not a lot of actual parks, so this is a nice change.”
Others appreciated the temporary patch of greenery, but were disappointed that their four legged friends are barred from entering the park. Jonathan Askin, a professor of clinical law at the Brooklyn Law School, watched the ribbon cutting ceremony with his goldendoodle Raina on the perimeter of the park. Askin, who lives just two blocks away from the Willoughby Street space and often schleps to Fort Greene Park for some greenery, adopted Raina three years ago based on the city’s pledge to include dog-friendly space in the park.
“There’s really no parks here,” said Askin. “We usually go to Fort Greene Park or Hill Side Park in Brooklyn Heights—so it’s disappointing.”
Lobe says EDC plans to incorporate space for furry friends in the forthcoming green space.
Come next summer, construction on the entire 1.15-acre lot, which is being designed and developed by landscape architecture firm Hargreaves Jones, is scheduled to begin. EDC says it aims to complete and open the park by 2022. But that timeline could be stymied by a May lawsuit filed by the project’s former developer, which the city initially hired in 2013 with plans to build the park and a subterranean parking lot. Currently, the suit makes it difficult for EDC to conduct major work on the site until the legal challenge is resolved.
EDC dropped its plans with the spurned developer, American Development Group, after the city says the firm failed to meet three conditions by a January 27, 2019 deadline. The development team was meant to secure funds for the project, negotiate an arrangement with a neighboring construction site, and finalize details with the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership, which will operate the park once it’s finally built. But when the city revived the plans without the parking lot or American Development Group, the builder cried foul and sued the city.
Lobe declined to comment on whether EDC expects the lawsuit to impact its overall timeline, but City Council member Stephen Levin, who represents the neighborhood, acknowledged that it is a possibility. Levin, who was not elected to office amid the 2004 neighborhood rezoning negotiations, lamented that more than a decade passed before tangible progress toward the zoning commitment occurred, but praised the city’s commitment to see the embattled project the through.
“Nobody has a crystal ball when they do a rezoning and so it’s easy for me to second guess everything that happened in 2004, but it does show the importance of getting clear timelines on things,” Levin told Curbed. “I have a level of urgency that I want to make sure this is finished by the time I’m out of office and I think the de Blasio administration feels the same way.”