Ground was broken on Westchester Square’s Owen Dolen Park, transforming the sometimes misused and abused public space into what leaders hope will be the hub of artistic and social activity.
The park is to undergo approximately $5 million in improvements, creating a dynamic new artistic performance space and large plaza along Westchester Avenue, as well removing excess paths through the park, and adding new seating, trees, ornamental plantings, lighting, and fencing, according to the Parks Department.
On hand for the groundbreaking ceremony on Wednesday, September 14 were Councilman Jimmy Vacca who provided nearly $4.5 million for the park’s renovation, Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. who allocated almost $500,000, a representative from the Congressman Joseph Crowley, Assemblyman Michael Benedetto, Parks Department commissioner Adrian Benepe, Westchester Square and Zerega Improvement Organization leader Sandi Lusk, Westchester Square Business Improvement District steering committee chairman John Bonizio, Community Board 10 district manager Kenneth Kearns and chairman John Marano, among others.
“I am proud to have allocated millions of dollars to the reconstruction of Owen Dolen Park and am very excited to see this project get off the ground,” Vacca said. “The new park will be a valuable resource for entire Westchester Square community and has been a long time coming.”
Citing his own fond memories of the Square from his youth, Vacca said he looked forward to the park becoming the center of a revitalized Westchester Square and having all sorts of recreational and entertainment programing, complementing the formation of the borough’s ninth business district by Westchester Square merchants.
This kind of renovation to the park, which should serve as the perfect place for the Bronx Council on the Arts, which is relocating to a former bank building at 2700 E. Tremont Avenue that was donated by J.P. Morgan Chase, to hold outdoor concerts and performances, Lusk said. The community had input into the design process, she stated.
“This is a true collaboration between the needs of the community, merchants, BCA, and the city,” Lusk said. “The designers were really patient and tried to work our ideas into the project.”
Parks’s Gustavo Frindt designed this project, and the contractor will be Kelco construction.The redesign ensures that the park remains a community oasis for many years to come, Benepe said.
“Owen Dolen Park and Recreation Center have long been important community amenities in the Bronx, offering innovative programing and passive recreation space,” Benepe said.
Diaz called the park and recreation center a jewel, and pledged his ongoing support.
“In the coming years I will work closely with the Parks Department, Commissioner Benepe and Councilman Vacca to ensure that this park remains a vibrant community space for decades, and I am very proud to have been a part of this project,” Diaz said.
The park is a centerpiece in an ongoing effort to revitalize the square’s commercial shopping district and could serve could spark and a renaissance, Bonizio said.
“This park, Owen Dolen Park, has always been the diamond in the rough of Westchester Square,” Bonizio said. “It is a jewel in the center of Westchester Square. This ground breaking symbolizes the rebirth the Square is about to go through.”