September 11 will bring another New York City Parks pool season to a close, and another summer the Astoria Park Diving Pool is left to disrepair. A plan to convert this space to an outdoor theater was approved in 2011 by former New York City Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe. Capital funding of $5.0 million was allocated for the reconstruction. Today a black chain link fence continues to separate the defunct diving pool from the main pool that teems with life.
Former City Councilman Peter F. Vallone Jr. and members of the Queens Community Board 1 devised the plan. With the assistance of then Queens Borough President Helen Marshall, the Parks Department allocated the needed funds for the project. “It was all set to go” Vallone said, “but unfortunately due to term limits I was out of a job in 2013.”
Costa Constantinides, the current District 22 City Council Member met with the Parks Department to downsize the plan in January. Michael Scholl, Press Officer for Queens Borough President Melinda Katz, confirmed that the original proposal for a performance space has been scaled back by the Parks Department to build a plaza. The one bid that was received during this four year period, came in over budget at $8.0 million. It was determined then to modify the plan.
Constantinides’ office was unavailable to comment.
“To tell me it’s going to cost $4-$5 million to fill in a hole, I can get a bunch of school kids to do it with shovels, is outrageous,” said Vallone, now a Judge of the Civil Court of New York City. “It would be an outrage for the Astoria community if this did not happen. This needs to be what was promised, a beautiful outdoor theater for this community. If not, an investigation needs to be done as to why that didn’t happen.”
The Astoria Park Diving Pool Reconstruction is a capital project that falls under Parks Department jurisdiction. According to the Official Website of the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation, a capital project has three phases: Design (10 to 16 months), Procurement (nine months) and Construction (12 to 18 months). The project is currently in the Design Phase which began in December 2012 and was to be completed by October 2013. The completion date of this phase has been adjusted to September 2016. When I first started researching this article in July, the project was in the Procurement Phase and due to be completed that month. Meghan Lalor, Chief of Staff to the Assistant Commissioner for Communications said “After Procurement, the project will enter the Construction phase which averages 12 to 18 months.” As of September the project has reverted back to the Design Phase.
Kevin Quinn, Chief of Architecture and Engineering for the Parks Department Capital Projects was contacted to explain these hurdles. His office has not responded.
The diving pool once known as The Olympic High Dive when it opened in the summer of 1936, hosted the 1936 and 1964 U.S. Olympic diving trials. “It was closed in 1980 for safety reasons,” said Lalor.
36 years have passed and the only transformation to this space is decay.
Sean and Dior are friends that grew up frequenting the park; they have never known the diving pool to be opened. They both expect it will be another seven to ten years before they see any changes to this space. Sean said, “They wanted to do something with this, turn it into like a kids place. They never pursued it. It was just talk.” Dior said, “They’re building the luxury buildings and people want to leave the city, that’s when their gonna do something with that.”
With approximately 215,000 residents speaking over 100 languages, Astoria Park is an oasis for the neighborhood.. Many families live in multi-unit dwellings that have little or no outdoor space. “Parks are our backyards,” said District Manager Florence Koulouris of Queens Community Board 1.
Astoria Park granted landmark status June 20, 2006, was once a training ground for athletes that would go on to the Olympics and win gold medals. Today it offers an all-weather running track, tennis and basketball courts, multiple playgrounds and a skatepark that opened in the fall of 2010. The main pool is the largest in New York City, measuring 330 feet in length with a capacity of 3000. Throughout the summer this space provides entertainment, cultural activities, and a place for gathering. “Astoria Park is our Central Park,” Koulouris said.
Where concrete and elevated train tracks define a densely populated neighborhood, this 59 acre park supports the physical and mental health of its users. The diving pool remains an eyesore and a missed opportunity for this community.
Repurposing an old pool into an entertainment venue is not new for the Parks Department. Jessica Bathurst, Executive Director for the Astoria Performing Arts Center is familiar with pools having other uses. “I saw concerts at McCarren Park Pool before turning it back into a regular pool. It was a lot of fun.”
Situated between two iconic bridges with the New York City skyline as the backdrop, Astoria Park is the perfect setting for a stage. “We have so many professional actors, musicians, you name it who live in Astoria now. Everyone was looking for a place to put on shows. They were renting out churches, doing all these strange things in order to get performances in Astoria, we thought this would be a great way to give them a place,” said Vallone, a professional musician himself. “Could you imagine how beautiful it would be to watch a play there, the river, the two bridges, the city behind you? It would be like ancient Greece. And now we’re getting a hole filled in with dirt.”
Until next time.
adventure is life, live it! ®