Riverbank State Park and Esplanade Gardens in Harlem among city’s worst water deadbeats

Riverbank State Park tops the list of water deadbeats with a $7.6 million bill dating back to 2000. Esplanade Gardens, an apartment complex at W. 147th St., owes $1.1 million.

Riverbank State Park in Harlem owes the city a lot of green.

Riverbank State Park in Harlem owes the city a lot of green.

A West Harlem state park owes the city a lot of green.

Riverbank State Park tops the list of water deadbeats with a $7.6 million bill dating back to 2000, records obtained by The News via a Freedom of Information Law request show.

The state has made costly improvements at the 28-acre public park since it opened in 1993, including $5.2 million for a new artificial turf field, boiler and gymnasium floor in 2012.

The site above the Hudson, meanwhile, boasts an ice rink, Olympic-size pool, 800-seat cultural theater, 2,500-seat athletic complex and a 15-seat restaurant — nearly all of which require water for maintenance or use, officials said.

“To have let this go 14 years without a resolution is irresponsible,” said Dick Dadey, executive director of the Citizens Union, a government watchdog group. “The fact that the city and state can’t resolve this impasse is shameful.”

State parks officials have been fighting with City Hall for more than a decade over who should cover the bill for the park, which sits atop a sewage treatment plant near Riverside Drive.

Meanwhile, it continues to be the worst water scofflaw in the city, outpacing the Big Apple’s second-place offender, Brookdale Hospital in Brooklyn, which owes $5.9 million.

“We are working with the state to take a fresh look at several issues in order to resolve past differences,” said a city Department of Environmental Protection spokesman.

It remains unclear why the state believes the city should be picking up the tab for the popular Harlem park, given its location above a massive state wastewater treatment plant.

“We are working with DEP to resolve old differences and move forward in a strong and productive partnership,” said state Parks spokesman Dan Keefe, who declined to elaborate.

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Wendy Hilliard: Teaching life lessons to Harlem’s kids

514b2d678a6fa_preview-300The next Olympic gymnastics champion just might be training in Harlem right now. Pioneering gymnast Wendy Hilliard makes the beauty of the elusive sport she loves accessible to all.

Since 1996, the Wendy Hilliard Foundation has served more than 10,000 kids, teaching them about the discipline of the sport, as well as valuable life lessons. “I wanted to make gymnastics more grassroots,” she told the AmNews.

Wendy grew up in Detroit. She was intrigued by gymnastics, but it was a challenge finding training. She took classes at a recreation center. Though a late bloomer to the sport, at age 12, she excelled and found her niche, by chance, with rhythmic gymnastics, which combines traditional gymnastic elements with performance while using props such as balls, hoops and ribbons. The first competition in the sport was held in the Soviet Union in 1949. It became an Olympic sport in 1984. Continue reading

Bitter faceoff at Harlem ice rink

Members of the figure skating in Harlem are shown during practice at Riverbank State  State Park in New York Thursday Feb. 17, 2011.

 

Many Harlem residents think their children are being squeezed out of a state park built for the neighborhood to make room for wealthy private-school kids from Manhattan and Riverdale.

The issue is the ice rink at Riverbank State Park, the 28-acre facility that opened in 1993 atop a city wastewater treatment plant.

Riverbank’s rink has become the center of a bitter faceoff over gender and racial equity in our public parks – with some local residents threatening a civil rights suit.

Park officials deny any discrimination. It’s just one of those perennial New York battles over park space, they claim. This conflict happens to pit one local figure skating program against an ice hockey program that attracts boys from across the city.

“Ice time is a rare commodity,” Rachel Gordon, the regional state parks director, said. “You have to balance the needs of all the people who want to use it.”

Parents of kids in the widely acclaimed Figure Skating in Harlem program say all sense of balance has been discarded – and the girls of Harlem are being sacrificed.

“Eighty percent of the rink time is allotted to boys hockey, even though not a lot of children from Harlem play hockey,” parent Denise Tutt said. “It’s a grave injustice to the girls of this community, and we just want the time spread more evenly.”

Sharon Cohen has run the figure skating program for 14 years. She has a huge waiting list but can’t accept more than a 130 girls each year because the park won’t allot her more than 4-1/2 hours of ice time a week.

Yet hockey teams from three elite schools outside the neighborhood – St. David’s on the upper East Side, Columbia Prep on the upper West Side, and Fieldston in Riverdale – all have regular slots at Riverbank, taking up 8-1/2 hours of the highly coveted weekday afternoon period at the rink.

In addition, the park has been expanding its hockey program, with a half-dozen teams consuming 15 more hours during the week and on weekend mornings.

Many of the older children in the park’s hockey program also play on the private school teams.

“You can see when those hockey parents pick up their kids that they’re not from this neighborhood,” one bitter resident said.

Park director Reggie Maywood bristles at any suggestion he favors one group over another.

“I work in a state park,” Maywood said. “Anyone who is a resident of this state is in my catchment zone.”

Peggy Shepard of West Harlem Environmental Action, says “There doesn’t seem to me any memory of why this park is there.”

Back in the 1980s, every neighborhood in Manhattan successfully resisted the construction of a wastewater plant.

The state agreed to build a new park on top of the plant to compensate Harlem residents for accepting the plant and for the inevitable foul odors it would bring.

“To now have community children not being being able to use it is a travesty,” Shepard said.

And the problem is not just on the ice.

“I’ve received complaints that Riverbank’s swimming pool is increasingly being rented to outside groups as well,” she said.

Riverbank is not simply a park. Harlem has lived for nearly 20 years with the odors from that plant. The promises made back then – of a park for the local community – have not been forgotten.

All they want uptown is some equity for their kids.

jgonzalez@nydailynews.com

Riverbank State Park in Harlem Offers Free Wi-Fi to Shrink the ‘Digital Divide’

By Jeff Mays

DNAinfo Reporter/Producer

HARLEM — Riverbank State Park in Harlem will be the first New York State park to offer free Wi-Fi in an effort to help close the digital divide.

Advocates have long complained about the “digital divide,” or the gap between those with Internet access and those without. Typically, minorities and the elderly are less likely to have access to the Internet, either because of cost or because their buildings aren’t wired for it, according to Bruce Lincoln, entrepreneur in residence at Columbia Engineering School.

Everyone knows the gap exists, said Lincoln, who was approached to create the wireless hotspot in Riverbank State Park.”The issue is how do you solve the problem and make it affordable for more people.”

The effort started out as part of a program to bring Wi-Fi access to one building at the park to facilitate a technology-themed event for seniors, said Lincoln. When the state’s Office of Parks couldn’t find a technology partner to install wireless Internet for the building, they turned to Columbia University and found Lincoln.

He said it would be just as hard to install Wi-Fi at one building in Riverbank State Park as it would be to wire the entire 28-acre green space, which is located atop a sewage treatment facility. So Columbia teamed up with other groups looking to bridge the digital divide to make it happen.

All 28 acres of Riverbank State Park will be wired for Wi-Fi. (DNAInfo/Jon Schuppe)

“The world is changing, the way people spend leisure time is changing and technology is part of that,” said Dan Keefe, a spokesman for the state Office of Parks. “It’s something we would like to bring to other parks.”

The Parks Department said they benefit from sponsoring a Wi-Fi hotspot in the park because it helps those with mobile devices to access information about the park, located along the Hudson River from West 137th Street to West 145th Street. Seniors will also be benefit because they can access the Internet to keep in touch with family or research medical issues. The access will have a special interface and will also block inappropriate sites to protect children, Lincoln said.

“It’s now a simple idea that wireless broadband is not a luxury it is a necessity,” said Lincoln. “There are those who can’t afford the Internet so you need affordable solutions.”

The change comes as the park has struggled with cuts in recent months. All four rangers at the park have been laid off and hours at the facility have been cut due to the massive state budget deficit.

The Wi-Fi is being maintained through a public-private partnership and will not cost the state any money, said Keefe.

Although the free Wi-Fi won’t have a negative impact on the state budget, new, unreleased data from the Pew Research Center’s Internet and American Life Project shows it looks likely to have a positive impact on the digital divide.

According to a September 2010 survey, the digital divide begins to close when the use of mobile Internet devices enters the equation, said Susannah Fox, associate director of the center.

The percentage of African-Americans and Latinos who go online when they have access to a wireless connection is much higher than white Internet users, the study found. Fifty-nine percent of blacks and 62 percent of Latinos go online using WiFi, as opposed to 55 percent of whites. The number of Blacks and Latinos who go online without a wireless connection is half of that of whites, according to the survey.

“The gap is still there in terms of traditional Internet access,” Fox said, “but when we add in a wireless connection that gap tends to close.”

Read more: http://www.dnainfo.com/20110119/harlem/riverbank-state-park-offers-free-wifi-shrink-digital-divide#ixzz1BWLNj0wx

Riverbank State Park in Harlem is Losing Rangers to Layoffs

MANHATTANRiverbank State Park in Harlem is losing all four of its rangers, just months after its operating hours were cut to help close a state budget gap.

The state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation sent layoff letters to the rangers earlier this month, telling them their jobs would end Jan. 1.

That means the 28-acre park, which runs along the river from West 137th Street to West 145th Street, will be without any full-time rangers, who patrol the grounds and help people navigate the facilities, union officials said. The rangers are considered by many to be the public face of the park.

The rangers’ union representatives complained that they weren’t given enough notice of the layoffs, and complained about the timing, in which workers were given pink slips just before the holidays.

“We understand the fiscal implications, which we’ve all been dealing with for several budget cycles. But these are human beings,” said Chris Hickey, executive vice-president of the New York State Correctional Officers and Police Benevolent Association, the union that represents the rangers.

A parks department spokesman declined to comment, and referred questions to the state budget office, where a spokeswoman also declined to comment.

Although they are responsible in part for the parks’ security, the rangers are not armed, and are not police. Riverbank has its own team of state park police.

The layoffs are part of nearly 900 across state government announced by Gov. David Paterson, who said he needed them to meet a goal of $250 million in workforce reductions. He blamed union leaders for failing to give concessions that would have gone toward the savings goal.

Earlier this year, Paterson cut hours at Riverbank as part of a plan to close a $8.2 billion deficit. Hundreds of residents rallied at the park in protest, accusing the state of reneging on its commitment to the facility, which was built in the early 1990s in exchange for the construction of a sewage treatment facility below it.

Brad Taylor, who chairs Community Board 9’s waterfront and parks committee, said the layoffs portended further cuts at Riverbank.

“It’s just not right that the community continues to have this burden put on it daily, and the park keeps getting put on the cutting block,” Taylor said.

In addition to the four rangers at Riverbank, the state is laying off the one ranger who works at Roberto Clemente State Park in the Bronx.

No other rangers at any other New York state parks are being let go, Hickey said.

Patrick Robinson, the Roberto Clemente ranger, said he has been worked there for 23 years and is now trying in vain to find another job. He is 46 and married with five children.

“I’ve been working there forever and it’s like they don’t have any respect for me,” Robinson said.

Read more: http://www.dnainfo.com/20101213/manhattan/riverbank-state-park-losing-rangers-layoffs#ixzz182cRMh1I