BY JASON COHEN
Community Board 1 residents fear that a mega project coming to the neighborhood in two years will slowly push everyone out.
On Thursday, January 30, representatives of the NYC Economic Development Corporation presented its plan to develop a riverfront park, ‘The Lower Concourse Park Project,’ which is part of a 2.3 acre $194 million investment in the south Bronx.
For context, the rezoning was approved in 2009 by the Department of City Planning and that the Community Board voted in favor of the overall rezoning. The park is just one aspect of the $194M investment, which will also include multiple blocks of new streetscape design, new water and sewer infrastructure, and Bronx Point (which also includes new open space). These are long-standing investments that have committed to the south Bronx in 2015.
In November, very few residents attended the first EDC public meeting about the project. Last week was quite the opposite.
“We tried to get the word out as much as we could, but the reality is people didn’t come,” Waheera Mardah, senior project manager, government and community relations for EDC, said about the initial meeting. “I wanted to make sure their voices were heard.”
Some attendees were in favor of including a parking lot and others wanted the area to be served by the a city bus. A few questioned whether the park would even be built.
Mardah assured the attendees that the Lower Concourse Park Project is for Mott Haven and the community.
“I won’t necessarily say the park is a catalyst for development,” Mardah said. “This is something that was committed to the community regardless.”
Rev. John Udo Okon is worried the park can lead to more high priced homes, high rises and buildings that are out of character with the community.
People can barely afford to live here now and the city wants to put this monstrous project here, he noted.
“So many developments are taking place around there,” the reverend said. “I believe things are going to change. I just want to find out if this park will be acceptable to the south Bronx people that are still living here or are we building this park for the new people that are coming?”
The EDC is working with the public now so that the parks design reflects their input.
However, Udo Okon said the park could also benefit the south Bronx. It will provide a safe fun place for people to go and could be a bright spot in an underserved community.
But, the reverend still isn’t sure. Residents of the south Bronx were there when the Bronx was burning, but now that it’s slowly on the mend, is the city putting money into big projects to push them out again?
“We are committed to investments in the neighborhood that support its residents today—be that the park design process or developing Bronx Point with 100 percent affordable housing,” said an EDC spokesman.
Another resident echoed his sentiments. He sees the park as a double-edged sword. It can benefit the south Bronx, but on the flipside, could lead to more high priced homes, fancy restaurants and push the local people out.
“I think the park is good,” he said. “A concern is most people cannot top live in this neighborhood.”
Historically and currently, the lower Grand Concourse has been used for manufacturing and is not far from the Harlem River Yard rail yard that stores and transports the city’s trash out of town.
The park is one piece of a bigger infrastructure puzzle of approximately 30 city blocks along the Harlem River that were rezoned for mixed-use future development in 2009.
The site is situated between E. 144th and E. 146th streets facing the Harlem River and parallel to the Major Deegan Expressway.
Residents were encouraged to take a survey online at https://edc.nyc/project/lower-concourse-infrastructure-investment-strategy.
In March, EDC reps will return to CB1 and discuss the results. Construction is expected to begin in 2022.
Aside from the upcoming March 1 meeting, the public will be have other opportunities to comment on the park project. Below are links to the surveys versions in English, Spanish and French just in case you wanted to add it: