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For Columbus Park Revamp, Anything But the Parking Lot

Residents said they wanted a farmers’ market, more events and public restrooms to be part of the future renovation of the public space at the southern tip of Cadman Plaza.
The first public meeting about the renovation of Columbus Park in downtown Brooklyn took place at Borough Hall on Monday. Photo: Anastasia Tomkin for BK Reader

If there was one thing residents almost unanimously agreed that should be part of the future renovation of Columbus Park in downtown Brooklyn, it was the removal of the judges' parking lot. 

Repurposing the parking lot for more useful activities, such as a designated space for skaters, a farmers' market and a performance area were some of the initial ideas batted around on Monday during the first public meeting on how to renovate the public space where Borough Hall currently sits. 

“We want to explore and re-envision Columbus Park as a local neighborhood park and as a distinctly Brooklyn space,” said Regina Myer, president of the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership.

The park’s renovation is an initiative led by Brooklyn Borough President Antonio Reynoso, who created a task force including Council Member Lincoln Restler, Downtown Brooklyn Partnership and WXY Studio. Monday’s event was the first attempt to incorporate public feedback in the design for the almost nine-acre space running from Tillary Street to Borough Hall. The meeting attracted several dozen attendees.

Local resident Valerie Saint-Rossy emphasized the need for “clear sight lines” in an area like Columbus Park, which is surrounded by tall buildings.

Other ideas centered on active and passive uses of the space, with some suggesting tables and chairs, food trucks and more shaded areas. Additions for adults included a permanent café offering both coffee and cocktails, and for children, a playground with an earthy aesthetic instead of harsh metal fixtures, readings and library outreach events.

Nikita K is an architect who works at an urban design company near Borough Hall. She recalled an incident when she was walking near the stairs when a skateboarder bumped into her and knocked her to the ground.

“There should be space and activities for all age groups,” K said, whose last name is the singlular alphabet letter. “The park should be inviting and accessible to all.”

One controversial issue was the possibility of renaming the park and removing the memorial statue of Christopher Columbus. The task force offered printed handouts that allowed guests to indicate whether they wanted currently installed monuments to be “reorganized” or “removed” from the park. The list included the Henry Ward Beecher Monument, the Christopher Columbus Memorial, the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial and the Korean War Veterans Monument.

Jeffrey Smith, who lives in Brooklyn Heights, voiced concern about the possibility of the park being renamed and the Columbus monument being removed. He said that the removal of the Columbus statue would be “a slap in the face to the Italian-American community" and there was already much criticism over the past five years about statue removals. 

Bob Lewis, the founder of New York City's Greenmarket Farmers Market program, said that there should be conversation about the Columbus element, and that no one person should necessarily decide the outcome. He said that there were more appropriate people to name the park after, who better represented the “classic America” or Brooklyn itself.

“I think maybe for the Columbus statue, the time has come,” Lewis said. “Beecher was for freedom, equity and justice. Columbus was about booty, booty for Spain.”

Claire Weisz of WXY Studio, a design firm, told the BK Reader that the focus of the community meeting was on the quality of the park and the public’s vision for activities to be held there.

Reynoso indicated that there is no set timeline for the Columbus Park renovation project to be completed. If re-elected as borough president, he hopes to complete the project within six years.

Anastasia Tomkin

About the Author: Anastasia Tomkin

Anastasia is a BK Reader freelance journalist. She hosts a YouTube show called "The Police Accountability Project", where she interviews guests about the challenges to implementing police reform. In her spare time, she enjoys baking and salsa dancing.
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