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Play street could be plaza

The Jackson Heights Green Alliance said the Play Street at 78th Street is on track to become a permanent fixture in the neighborhood.
TimesLedger Newspapers

Jackson Heights Green Alliance, a park and open space advocacy group, announced at a town hall meeting Monday the 78th Street Play Street is on track to become a permanent plaza.

The alliance also said at its meeting, held at the Jewish Center of Jackson Heights at 37-06 77th St., that the city and The Garden School, a private institution, were close to reaching a deal so the city could purchase the playground. The collective efforts would double the amount of public park space in Jackson Heights.

“Jackson Heights is a wonderful place to live. There’s no place like it in the world,” said City Councilman Daniel Dromm (D-Jackson Heights), who attended the meeting, “but sometimes we feel a little congested.”

Donovan Finn of the alliance said the play street was created in 2008 by closing down 78th Street between Northern Boulevard and 34th Avenue near Travers Park to traffic for the summer months. Members set up toys, games, places to sit and activities for residents. The idea behind it was to increase park space in the neighborhood, which ranks 50 out of 51 City Council districts for park space.

“The whole neighborhood has come to know, and hopefully love the play street,” Georgia Southworth, of the alliance, said.

Finn said the alliance had been working with the city Department of Transportation on the play street and now it is an official part of the public plaza program.

The alliance plans to hold workshops this fall on what the community would like to see in a permanent plaza and hopes for construction to start in the spring or summer of 2013, Finn said.

“The status of the street is hopefully going to change,” he said.

Finn said this will be the first time that a nonprofit rather than a business improvement district has applied to create a plaza.

Alliance members also said a plan to expand the open space near Travers Park even further is near fruition. Dromm began working in March 2010 to buy the playground of The Garden School, at 33-16 79th St.

Facing deficits, The Garden School had planned to sell its playground to the city. Dromm secured $4 million in capital funding and Borough President Helen Marshall secured $1 million, but The Garden School said in late September 2010 it needed money more quickly and opened the lot up to a private sale.

In response, the alliance created an emergency fund to help The Garden School pay its operating costs. The group raised $500,000 in three months through its Grow a Park campaign and attracted $1 million from a private foundation.

Eventually, Mayor Michael Bloomberg got involved and Deputy Mayor Howard Wolfson has been negotiating for the city to buy the playground. Those negotiations are mostly worked out, said alliance member Will Sweeney.

“It is not 100 percent complete yet,” he said.

Reach reporter Rebecca Henely by e-mail at rhenely@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4564.

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