Dozens of Upper East Side residents want their voices heard. And for at least a few hours Saturday afternoon, they were — loud and clear.
“Save our park! Stop Related!” they shouted in unison.
Residents of Yorkville, a neighborhood in the Upper East Side, gathered at Ruppert Playground on East 92nd Street between Second and Third avenues on Sept. 12. Their purpose was simple.
“We’re here to preserve our park and stop it from being developed,” said Oscar Fernandez, 34, lead organizer of the Save Ruppert Playground and resident of Ruppert Housing, a 42-story apartment building adjacent to the park.
The signs, banners and chants were an effort to get the attention of city officials.
“We would like the city to negotiate a deal to get the land back. They sold it to a private company, and that was a very bad deal for taxpayers,” said Geoffrey Croft, president of NYC Park Advocates and long-time UES resident.
The Department of Housing Preservation and Development sold the approximately 1-acre property to developer Related Cos. in 1983. The agreement required Related to maintain the park for at least 25 years, but the deal expired in June 2008.
Earlier this year, residents began to worry about the fate of their beloved park when they heard rumors Related planned to turn the area into a 40-story building. According to residents, that’s the last thing their neighborhood needs.
Andrew Zador, 79, has lived in Yorkville for 30 years, and he said building another high-rise would be “terrible” and would “turn the city into a jungle.”
And Croft, of NYC Park Advocates, agrees.
“This community has the least amount of parks and open space in the entire city,” Croft said. “(Ruppert Playground) is an important part of our community. It has tremendous meaning to us all.”
But since April, Croft said they have made some headway. Certain elected officials have heard their calls for help. In fact, a few were present at Saturday’s protest. Among them were City Councilman Daniel Garodnick, and State Assemblymen Jonathan Bing and Micah Kellner.
During the rally that kicked off the event, each official had a chance to address the residents.
Councilman Garodnick was first.
“We need to make sure this neighborhood, which is starved for playgrounds, doesn’t lose this critical gem,” he shouted, his fist raised in the air.
State Assemblyman Jonathan Bing chimed in, too.
“The mayor (Michael Bloomberg) wants his legacy to be preservation. Well, this is where his mark will be made,” Bing said. “You need to ask (elected officials) what they are doing to preserve Ruppert Playground. If their answer is not good enough, don’t vote for them!”
Fernandez, lead organizer of Save Ruppert Playground, said the next step is to continue reaching out to city officials in hopes that negotiations will be made. One of their creative approaches allows concerned citizens to send tennis balls with attached notes to Mayor Bloomberg and executives at Related.
So far, volunteers said they have sent about 200 tennis balls and messages, asking officials to take action.
In the last 30 years, Ruppert Park has seen the likes of many different games: tennis, basketball, handball, hopscotch. It’s been a place for residents of all ages to enjoy.
But now, in the midst of plans that would demolish the park and perhaps the community, some fear, it comes down to one final game.
“Now it’s just a waiting game,” Croft said. “We’ll have to wait to see their next move.”
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