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Vacca: close Owen Dolen at night

In order to protect the investment of a massive multi-million restoration project in Westchester Square, renovations may include fencing to make the park inaccessible at night.

The park, located in the center of Westchester Square, is being completely renovated. The $5 million project includes a paved plaza, increased accessibility to the green spaces, ADA ramps to the upper plaza, new landscaping, and benches. The Phase 2 reconstruction of the park is expected to be complete in mid-2011. Funding includes $4.5 million from Councilman James Vacca and $500,000 from Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr.

In a meeting between Parks officials, Vacca, merchants, and Community Board 10 at Owen Dolen Recreation Center at 2551 Westchester Avenue on Thursday, May 13, Vacca stressed the need to have the park locked and secured at night.

“We do want to close it at night,” Vacca said after the meeting. “Most parks are closed at night. This is a multi-million project and we want to protect our investment. It’s going to cost a lot of money and we don’t want to see it vandalized.”

Vacca said that there have been instances of graffiti and other unlawful behavior in the park at night, but nothing too severe. Nevertheless, he feels that closing the park at night is another step in turning the park, and Westchester Square, into a destination.

“We want Owen Dolen to be one of the linchpins in the total revitalization of Westchester Square,” Vacca said. “We’ve learned our lesson when it comes to parks. Too many incidents occur at night. There is no reason that Owen Dolen Park needs to be open at night.”

CB 10 district manager Kenneth Kearns said that the board would be considering Vacca’s proposal to have the park closed at night.

“He feels that since a sizable investment of public funds has been made in the park, he would like to see it closed at night in order to protect the park from vandalism,” Kearns said. “That is what we are now exploring.”

William Aguado, president of the Bronx Council on the Arts, said that the newly renovated park should complement all of the cultural and arts programs that he hopes will spark a renaissance in the Square.

“We want to make the square a destination,” Aguado said at the recent Fair at the Square on Saturday, May 15. “Today’s art walk was a great start. We want to show art is important, and that people in Westchester Square care about art. With the Owen Dolen redesign, we hope the park will become a family destination.”

Reach reporter Patrick Rocchio at (718) 742-3393 or procchio@cnglocal.com.

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