Vol. 16, No. 9  April 24 - May 9, 2003


Rejuvenated, Poe Park Waits for Next Improvements


Poe Park, perched on the edge of the bustling Grand Concourse in North Fordham, is a patch of quietude for lunchtime users, playground mothers and park bench sitters. Much improved by a major renovation completed in 2001, usage is up as word spreads about the park and its summertime offerings for adults and kids. But delays in city funds promised two years ago have delayed further developments.

"We're going to start lobbying for Poe again soon," said Pat Logan, director of Policy and Planning at the Fordham Bedford Housing Corporation. "It could be fully funded with a little more support."

Logan, who has spearheaded plans for the park's first phase of redevelopment, has worked with Parks Department designers on planning the park's second phase of renovation. The plan features a digital information center focused on the park and its most famous resident -- Edgar Allan Poe, whose 19th century cottage is located on the park's north side.

While 2001 was apparently a good year for the park -- Councilman Joel Rivera and Bronx Borough President Adolfo Carrión allocated over $1 million for phase two --there have been setbacks.

"Unfortunately, a lot of that money has been pushed out" to other capital expenses during the fiscal year, Logan said. About $500,000 has actually materialized for the additional improvements. The price tag for phase two is about $1.5 million, Logan said. Capital budget negotiations, beginning next month, will determine how much additional funding will flow to the park, said Albert Alvarez, a spokesman for Rivera. "The park is a high priority," he said. "We've put a lot of money into Poe Park, so we are not going to let it die or slide backwards."

An $87,000 grant from the state's Land and Water Conservation Fund is en route to the city Parks Department. The money is slated to refurbish Poe's bandstand.

"There hasn't been any major work on it since the 1960s," said Logan, referring to the bandstand, a tall circular platform surrounded by open paved space. The rehab will give the stage its own power source, repair the columns and refurbish the railing to its original 1920s charm.

The bandstand is the focal point of Poe's concert series, which began last year and drew hundreds to Latin jazz concerts and storytelling for kids. The area around the bandstand is also now used by kids participating in a summer Playstreets program run by Fordham Bedford's Children's Services, a division of the Housing Corporation.

"The kids loved it," said Helen Hamer, a member of the Ravens, a Poe volunteer group.

"They didn't run out into the streets to fetch their balls." (The Playstreets program used to operate on East 198th Street.)

The Ravens continue to run seasonal events in the park, including activities for Easter and Mother's Day.

But the events suffer from the lack of bathrooms in the park, says Hamer. The bathrooms,

slated for repair in phase two, haven't been open in years. At events, groups are forced to rent expensive portable toilets.

Bathrooms are needed for general use, especially for kids, said Nilda Perez, who often eats lunch in Poe. "When it's warm, there are lots of kids playing here," she said.

The major renovations in phase one -- including new pathways, benches, fencing, lighting and sod -- have encouraged families to drift back to Poe since their completion in 2001. "The park was OK before, but it needed enhancements," said Hamer, who watches the park's goings-on from her window.

Local resident Frances Mercado uses the park much more since the renovations. "I rollerblade on the weekends since it's been paved," she said.

The fencing along the perimeter has done a lot to help park safety, Hamer said. Perez also feels more comfortable eating her lunch at Poe now. "You don't see people doing drugs out in the open anymore," she said. "It's peaceful."

But Perez and Hamer noted that supervision from Parks Department personnel has become scarce. While Poe did have a full-time parks manager named Ismael Lopez, he was permanently moved to St. James Park during the renovations. "Ismael was really resourceful to us," Hamer said.

The number of maintenance staff -- including workers from the Parks Opportunity and Parks Experience programs -- has been waning in Poe. "It's really important to have them in a park like Poe," said Logan, who credits the workfare program for helping to keep the park tidy and adding a sense of safety. But these programs have been scaled back citywide. Currently, there are only 117 PEP workers stretched among 1,700 parks.

On a recent morning, trash was blowing up from the park's green patches. No staff or security was present. "There should be more patrolling for the kids," Perez said. Ben Kirkland, who frequents the benches on breaks from driving the Bx No. 1 and No. 2 buses along the Concourse, wishes there was less garbage. "It's good during the day, but they litter it up in the evening," he said.

Logan reported that Fordham Bedford has been working with Maria Febus (see profile on this page), the new District 7 parks manager, to address safety and cleanliness concerns.

And the Parks Department is now working on finding Poe a permanent staff person. "It's going to happen soon," said a Parks Department spokesperson.

Ed note: To volunteer with the Ravens, call Fordham Bedford Housing Corporation at (718) 367-3200 or Helen Hamer at (718) 733-7193.

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