Revamp at Highbridge
August 16, 2017
By Gregg McQueen
One of the city’s largest parks, Northern Manhattan’s Highbridge Park stretches along the Harlem River from 155th Street to Dyckman Street.
The expansive parkland is in the process of getting a major facelift, courtesy of $30 million from the city as part of the Anchor Parks initiative announced in 2016.
Best known for its iconic water tower and neighboring footbridge for which it is named, Highbridge Park also features a recreation center with a public swimming pool, playgrounds, ball fields and a skate park.
On Mon, Aug. 14, Councilmember Ydanis Rodríguez and Northern Manhattan Parks Administrator Jennifer Hoppa provided a tour of Highbridge’s high points for members of the press and a group of advocates from New Yorkers for Parks.
Rodríguez said the park offers uptown residents much-needed green space.
“We have an influx of people moving into this area, and they need places for recreation,” he said.
Rodríguez and Hoppa pointed out that the Anchor Parks renovations for Highbridge will be conducted in two phases. Phase 1 focuses on the northern section of the park, which runs from 182nd to Dyckman Street.
“The goal was to make the northern part of the park more usable,” said Hoppa, who noted that ADA-compliant ramps, pathway lighting, a new comfort station and ADA-accessible community plaza are being installed.
Phase 2 will address the southern part of the park, which will also be getting pathway lighting, as well as a renovated new playground and new practice fields. Most of the park improvements are still years away from being finished, Hoppa said.
Lynn Kelly, Executive Director of New Yorkers for Parks, said her group visits several parks a year across the five boroughs.
“It’s a way to get ideas for future park upgrades,” she said. “It’s good to see what’s going on around the city.”
A 10-block section of Highbridge Park is currently inaccessible during construction, said Hoppa, who noted that I-95 splits the northern and southern sections of the park.
“The highway cuts right through the middle of the park, which makes navigation a bit more challenging,” she said.
During a stop at the park’s recreation center, Rodríguez explained his vision for the facility. He said he hoped that a portion of the center’s massive outdoor pool could be enclosed so it could be used year-round.
“Kids in this community don’t have an indoor pool,” he remarked. “They badly need one. Learning how to swim is a very important skill for kids to learn.”
Rodríguez also mentioned long-discussed plans to use the pool area for a skating rink in the wintertime.
In both 2014 and 2015, NYC Parks issued a Request for Proposal (RFP) to find a partner to develop and operate an ice rink at the park from October to March, yet despite a $1 million allocation promised by Rodríguez to upgrade the park’s infrastructure, the RFP received no responses.
Last October, NYC Parks tested the viability of a synthetic ice surface during a community skating demonstration using a synthetic ice surface, but Hoppa noted that those plans are also on hold.
“We have a synthetic ice vendor that we could use, but we don’t have an operator for it,” she said.
Rodríguez and Hoppa showed off the High Bridge, New York City’s oldest standing bridge,which was reopened to the public in 2015 for the first time in 40 years. Visitors are now able to walk between Manhattan and the Bronx via the bridge while taking in impressive views.
“That’s one of the things that makes this park so important, is that we have a lot of people coming over from the Bronx now,” Rodríguez said.
He noted that a renovation project is underway for the Highbridge water tower, opened in 1872, to allow the public access to the structure.
Rodríguez said the views from the top of the tower are impressive.
“It’s high enough that you can see the Tappan Zee Bridge and One World Trade Center,” he said.
Rodríguez noted that a scoping meeting regarding the Inwood NYC rezoning project will be held on September 14 at IS 52, and said the meeting would provide the chance for discussion on how park improvements would relate to potential rezoning.
“It will be a chance for the community to give feedback on what’s going on,” he said.
Following the tour, Kelly remarked that she was impressed with Highbridge Park’s views and topography.
“It is also well-maintained, making it a community asset that is well-positioned to be a citywide asset,” Kelly said. “It is important to consider what impact the future Inwood rezoning will have on the area’s open space, including Highbridge Park, and whether the parks are able to meet the needs of current and future neighborhood residents.”