Bronx Park Stays Closed as Reconstruction Efforts Drag On

Mt. Hope Garden Park

Mt. Hope Garden Park in the Bronx has been closed for several years as reconstruction projects drag on. (Photo by Kayle Hope)

By Kayle Schnell

A month after the city Parks and Recreation Department promised to unveil renovation plans for Mt. Hope Garden park, Bronx Councilman Fernando Cabrera is still waiting.

The parks department closed the park in 2008 to repair a sinkhole in the middle of the park. The Council allocated $1 million to get the small park and playground cleaned up and reopened, but the money never got spent, and now the city faces a $2 million bill to restore the local oasis.

In September, the parks department notified Councilman Cabrera plans for the re-opening would be completed in October, but that hasn’t happened, he said. The park is still locked up.

Parks announced a bidding request seeking contractors to reconstruct the retaining wall and the playground in Mount Hope Garden, according to Nathan Arnosti, a Parks spokesman. The Parks press office did not respond to several requests about why the plans have not been delivered to Councilman Cabrera.

“If this was in Manhattan, the project would already be done,” Cabrera said. “I always feel, and the proof is in the pudding with Mount Hope Garden, that we in the Bronx get left behind.”

Ana Nazario, 75, held the key to the lock on Mount Hope Garden for 20 years. She opened and closed the park everyday until it was shutterred five years ago.

“It pains me because many kids pass by here and say ‘Open the park!’” Nazario said through a translator.

The playground is home to stray cats that scamper around trash and a large sinkhole filled with water that residents say breeds mosquitos in warm weather.

The park—located on Creston Avenue in Mount Hope—was not surveyed properly when it was originally built, Cabrera said.

“They didn’t do borings, where you dig down and see what’s below to make sure when you put cement on top it doesn’t sink,” Cabrera said. “It was poor engineering.”

Cabrera announced in June 2012 that the city had allocated $1 million to repair Mount Hope Garden. Last year the parks department told the councilman it would have plans by January 2013, but that never happened, he said.

Inspectors found additional deterioration in the retaining wall and said the scope of rebuilding the project was broader than originally thought, Arnosti said.

He added that, after an additional city allocation of $1 million to repair the damaged retaining wall, the parks department is now in the process of procuring a design consultant for both portions of the project, Arnosti said.

Cabrera says if they hadn’t delayed the project for so long, the retaining wall wouldn’t be an issue.

“It baffles me that a retaining wall would cost $1 million,” Cabrera said. “It’s now a $2 million mistake because they didn’t do their job.”

Geoffrey Croft, president of New York City Parks Advocates, said the parks department is the number one agency in the city for cost overruns in the capital division.

He cites a report from Comptroller John C. Liu in January, which said 47 percent of parks department projects were not completed in their scheduled time frame and 50 percent exceeded their estimates of cost.

“The capital division of the parks department is a mess all unto its own,” Croft said. “There’s no accountability.”

Cabrera said the city has broken all its promises with fixing parks, which are crucial in a community like Mount Hope that boasts few green spaces.

“I would call it an oasis,” Cabrera said. “It’s very important to have a place for people to congregate and have a sense of community.”

Serene Mayes, a grandmother who says she’s lived in the neighborhood for 37 years, used to have her grandson’s birthday parties at the park. If the park was in Manhattan, it would have been taken care of years ago, she said.

“We live in a poor neighborhood so no one’s doing anything about it,” Mayes said. “They always forget about the ’hood.”