Written by Katie Piacentini Friday, 21 October 2011 00:00
On a beautiful, sunny October day, the Village of Port Washington North and the Town of North Hempstead held the dedication ceremony for the Bay Walk Waterfront Park, the Port North Pier, and the Bay Walk Nautical Art Museum. The concept of this waterfront park along Manhasset Bay was developed 15 years ago, and many people in the community and several government entities have been involved with making this dream a reality.
Port North Village Trustee and Deputy Mayor Michael Schenkler provided the introduction, and said that he moved to Port Washington from Queens because of the open space, the parks and recreation, and the opportunities for art and culture. “It is thrilling to help provide for the future more opportunities to access our beautiful waterfront,” Schenkler said.
To describe how all of this came to be, Mayor Bob Weitzner told everyone the story, stating that it began about 15 years ago. “Shore Road was saddled with shoreline blight, visual pollution, oil tanks at one side of the road, vacant retail spaces, and dilapidated piers and marinas on the other. Businesses were closing on a regular basis. It was during that time that Tom Imperatore, who then was the chairman of PW North’s planning board, along with his fellow board members, came up with this concept of a Bay Walk, taken from the success of some of the other streetscape improvements in Nassau County. The plan was to create a wide path with old style lighting where people could walk along Shore Road, take in the breathtaking sights of Manhasset Bay,” Mayor Weitzner said.
Tom Imperatore, who was also a representative on the town’s waterfront advisory board, was an integral person in the development of this park. Mayor Weitzner said that although Tom Imperatore passed away a few months ago, his vision still lives on today. The mayor also thanked Tom’s planning board members, including Irwin Kellner and Stan Ronell. Weitzner added, “In honor of Tom Imperatore’s accomplishments and his dedication, the village dedicated a bench in his name, which currently resides overlooking the bay that he loved, in the park named after his dear friend, the Tom Pellegrino Park.”
The story continued with the accomplishments of former mayor Tom Pellegrino. “Under his watch, oil tanks were removed, much of the waterfront parkland was acquired by the village, and the first grant was submitted for the town Bay Walk,” Weitzner said, thanking Pellegrino for his 34 years of service to the village and his help in beginning this project. He further explained that this first grant, in the amount of $165,000, came from the New York State Department of Coastal Resources, which became a major source of this park’s funding.
Once the village had the grant money, they realized that they needed to develop more of a plan and gather community input. Weitzner said that when he was elected trustee in 2003, he was tasked with creating a process to develop this park. He thanked his staff and Village Trustees Michael Schenkler, Steven Cohen, Michael Malatino, and Sherman Scheff, who supported him in this process, as well as Public Works Superintendent Ron Novinski for making the park look wonderful today.
The village waterfront property is separated by a long parcel owned by the Town of North Hempstead, which led Weitzner to partner with Town Supervisor Jon Kaiman and Town Councilman Fred Pollack. “Back then our village had no reserves to speak of, no public works department, no expertise in park ownership or maintenance of any kind. It was the town that provided us with the guidance and resources to endure. More remarkably, Kaiman allowed the village to spearhead this project and design of this park, some of it on priceless town property,” Weitzner said.
The village board unanimously chose Cameron Engineering to guide them in the process of creating a plan for the park. It began with gathering community input and the Bay Walk Park Committee had many meetings during this time as well. In addition, the town’s Port Washington Shared Vision project brought hundreds of residents from the Port peninsula to weigh in on the park, and Residents for a Beautiful Port Washington also provided input on this project. Weitzner said that in the end, Cameron Engineering had a brilliant interpretation of what the community wanted for Bay Walk Park.
By 2005, there was a plan in place but they needed money. Weitzner said that over the next six years, the village submitted 11 grants and received commitments for almost $4 million. With this funding, the park was built. The work was contracted out through a bid, and it was built by PSL Industries. Many government officials helped the village obtain these grants, including Congressman Gary Ackerman, former Assemblyman and current State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli, current Assemblywoman Michelle Schimel, former state senators Mike Balboni and Craig Johnson, and County Legislator Wayne Wink.
Weitzner then described the development of Port North Pier. “What was once an oil transfer pier – broken, gated off, chain link fence – has now turned into a full service pier, complete with sightseeing amenities, fishing dock, a float and gangway, making Port North a nautical destination and part of the town’s Blueway Trail. This pier is used constantly, from the Coast Guard to sailors all over the world.” In the middle of Mayor Weitzner’s story, boaters arrived at the pier. He asked them where they were from, and to everyone’s amusement, they said, “Switzerland!” Weitzner joked, “Did this work or what?”
The beautification of the shoreline has also led to a more vibrant economy. Weitzner noted that restaurants are now demanding to have outdoor seating on Shore Road – something that would have been unthinkable years ago. In addition, he noted that this park caused other projects to bloom, such as a current project to beautify Shore Road and to make it safer for pedestrians.
The story is not over yet, Weitzner said, in that Port North will soon begin working on Phase 2 of Bay Walk Park, which will include sun shade, a children’s play area, a kayak launch, and parking with handicap accessibility.
Councilman Fred Pollack, a long-standing member of Bay Walk’s Nautical Art Museum committee, said that this project has been a dream that has come true. “Let no one tell you that an idea cannot happen, because this is proof that all it takes is one good idea with a group of determined people, and it will happen,” Pollack said. He added, “The town has been inspired by this and we are working on a project. We are eventually going to expand the Bay Walk from the town dock to end of this project, where it is now, and from that end all the way over to Manorhaven Beach Park, so you will be able to walk the entire length of Manhasset Bay on this side.”
Weitzner noted that he developed a strong partnership with Town Supervisor Jon Kaiman to build this park. “With the town’s support, we were able to cross the lines of government, and make one park for all to use. Through this partnership, the town monitors this park with its public safety department by land, and its bay constables by sea. The town also delivered and installed a new Port North bus shelter down the way. This is sincerely a partnership that works,” Weitzner said.
Kaiman said, “So many people came together through the visioning process to make sure this stayed on course. I thank everyone who journeyed through this process, and to the mayor who pulled us together and made it work.”
Weitzner noted that although State Senator Jack Martins was not a part of the early story, he is certainly a part of the present and future. Martins presented a proclamation to Mayor Weitzner, and called Port North, “The tiny village that could.”
State Assemblywoman Michelle Schimel was always 100 percent behind this project, Weitzner said. Schimel said she first learned of this project very soon after being elected, and was so excited to help. She added that she will continue to support it.
Nassau County helped with this project by providing $400,000 from the Environmental Bond Fund, and Weitzner said that Legislator Wayne Wink was instrumental in helping the village obtain these funds. Wink quoted a Talking Heads song called Nothing but Flowers, where lead singer David Byrne satirically laments, “This was a factory and now it’s a peaceful oasis.” At the end, Byrne sings, “Please get me out of here, I can’t get used to this lifestyle.” Wink said, “This, I think, is something we can get used to. I commend the village and the town for this wonderful reclaiming of what was once industrial, to something that is recreational and open to the public.”