SCHENECTADY – City and county officials and community members interested in creating a safe, recreational space on Crane Street showed off work on an expanded one-acre park that once sat in the shadows of six dilapidated buildings.
Mayor Gary McCarthy described Orchard Park on Crane Street in the Mont Pleasant neighborhood as a pocket park.
“But it was like a pocket inside of two pair of jeans, wrapped in a pair of overalls, and left in the wash for a couple of weeks,” McCarthy quipped.
“People did not know it was here,” he said, “and unfortunately the good that they could provide to the neighborhood was often overshadowed with the negative aspects – people going in and dumping.”
There was also drug use, the mayor said.
Through a partnership with Capital Region Land Bank, the city undertook the complicated process of razing the six adjacent neighborhood eyesores.
The city and county, the land bank, and community leaders held a ceremonial ground-breaking Wednesday on the park redevelopment, all told a $1.3 million investment and “a major milestone for revitalization efforts along Crane Street.”
The city received a $354,735 grant from the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, and Schenectady County will invest an additional $100,000 to redevelop the park.
The city and the Capital Region Land Bank spent $572,254 to demolish vacant and abandoned city-owned buildings at 1035 and 1039 Second Ave., and 702, 706, 710 and 720 Crane St.
The redevelopment of Orchard Park adds .85 acres of green space to the neighborhood through the demolitions.
The park will include a wide, multi-use asphalt path of just shy of a quarter mile, where it’s hoped that children can safely learn how to ride bicycles, according to Mary Moore Wallinger, founding principal and owner of LAndArt Studio, the Schenectady-based firm that designed the park.
Taking down the buildings expanded the park and created new entranceways to improve access, visibility and public safety as recommended by the neighborhood in the city’s comprehensive plan.
Wallinger remarked that the park had been so invisible to the public, she knew of a person who used it to give driving lessons.
County Legislator Richard Ruzzo, who is also chairman of the Capital Region Land Bank, was credited for lining up the funding for some of the demolitions.
“This is about neighborhood revitalization,” Ruzzo said. “This is about a neighborhood coming together and restoring what is so important to all of us. A park is where we make memories, a park is where moments happen, that bring family together.”
Through community outreach meetings, it was determined that redevelopment of the newly expanded park would include new walkways, playground equipment, picnic tables, new LED lighting, and a pavilion with grills.
ReTree Schenectady will donate 17 new trees as part of the expanded green space, an improvement of quality of life and the urban canopy, Wallinger said.
Redevelopment of Orchard Park is one of several revitalization efforts led by the city, county and land bank in the Mont Pleasant neighborhood, including the new Schenectady County Mont Pleasant Library and the new Schenectady Boys and Girls Club.
The land bank is administered by the Schenectady County Metroplex Development Authority as part of the county’s unified economic development team.
County Legislator Richard Patierne said the county was pleased to provide the $100,000 in what he said would be the first of many projects planned for the city.
Patierne is also a member of the land bank’s board of directors and he sits on the Recreation Advisory Commission that McCarthy tasked with making improvements to parks and recreation facilities throughout the city.
Patierne said the first time he walked the park, he was amazed by the dumping ground littered with old appliances, cars lined along fences and broken bottles.
Wallinger described how the neighborhood’s feedback was included in the project. She said Johan Matthews of Mutual Designs helped with outreach to neighborhood children who picked the kind of playground equipment they wanted.
Instead of having all the playground equipment concentrated in a central area, Orchard Park will have four different play stations along the path, which Wallinger said would encourage movement back and forth throughout the park and more interest in the equipment. Wallinger said that this was popular among kids and an emerging trend in recreation to encourage physical exercise and make things more interesting.
Officials held a symbolic first shovel of the dirt-covered park. The project is said to be weeks from completion.