NEW YORK - Residents in Red Hook are mourning the loss of a pop-up park near the waterfront that they say provided an open-air space for families during the pandemic.
Beginning in Spring 2020, it was a place to enjoy live music, a place for pumpkin carving, holiday decorations and summer sprinklers.
As of Monday, the strip of parking lot is bare with nothing but colorful paint on the asphalt. The area of the former park is located right next to the Mary A. Whelan, a 1938 historic oil tanker that now houses a nonprofit, PortSide New York.
"We're a living lab for better urban waterways," says founder Carolina Salguero, "and connecting new Yorkers to the benefits and potential of the waterways."
During the pandemic, Salguero says the community was seeking outdoor spaces by the waterfront. So that spring, she placed some chairs, tables and umbrellas to make visitors more comfortable. That grew to include a library, collection of toys and even community programming, calling the area "PortSide Park." The effort was even recognized by then-Borough President Eric Adams with a citation.
"It's pretty devastating, it was great for the neighborhood, it was free," says Red Hook resident Vanessa McKnight, who often brought her grandkids to play there.
The location of this park was just steps away from the entrance to the NYC Ferry, so park supporters say it very quickly changed from just a place for locals, to a place for ferry riders from across the city to come hang out while they wait.
Last Friday, Salguero received a cease-and-desist letter from Billybey Marina Services, stating that the New York City Economic Development Corporation has requested them to dismantle the space because of unauthorized use and safety concerns.
"It came at 3:55 p.m. on Friday of Rosh Hashanah weekend, and we had to get everything out by Monday," she says, adding that she was certain NYCEDC had known of this space for months because of the ongoing operation of the ferry just steps away.
A NYCEDC spokesperson responded to CBS2's inquiry with a statement that read:
"NYCEDC understands that members of the community appreciated having the pop-up seating and play area, but we were compelled to order Billybey Marina Services, the Operator of the DockNYC program, to notify PortSide to cease and desist with the unauthorized use of the Pier 11 upland area as a pop-up seating and play area. The setup violated our lease with the Port Authority, and it also posed a danger to pedestrians given the regular vehicle traffic on that corridor. In addition, it also posed safety and liability concerns given its presence in a working industrial area and the risks would be further heightened as construction of the NYC Ferry 2nd Homeport, a critical maintenance facility for ferry boats, commenced this week on Monday, September 26, 2022."
Many neighbors, however, say traffic has never been a concern there.
"It was not heavily trafficked at all, very quiet which is why we enjoyed going there," says Red Hook mom Susan Forman, who brought her son on Monday to find the park gone.
Park supporters say they wished NYCEDC gave them a chance to address the safety concerns while working together to find a way to preserve the community space.
Billybey Marina Services, which operates under DockNYC, did not respond to a request for comment.
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