Former Phipps Playground Now a Public Park: Van Bramer
Sept. 16, 2019 By Christian Murray
The City has bought a large property on the corner of 50th Street and 39th Avenue and will soon start work on converting it into a public park.
The property, the former Phipps Playground, was officially acquired by the city on Thursday.
Details of the transaction–such as the price paid–were not known at time of publication.
The 10,000 square foot site will become a public park/playground named in honor of the late firefighter Michael Davidson. Davidson, who was killed fighting a blaze in Harlem in March 2018, was raised at the Phipps Housing Complex, which is located across the street from the playground on 39th Avenue.
“I am thrilled that this is finally happening,” said Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer, who anticipates the park/playground will open in 2 to 3 years. “This will be a wonderful playground, great addition—and incredibly meaningful.”
The former playground has been vacant for decades and once served children who lived at the Phipps Housing Complex. It is one of the last depression-era playgrounds in New York and some of the remnants of the old park, like a shed and swings, are still seen today.
Phipps owned the property until 2007 before selling it to DBH, a development company.
DBH put forward a highly-unpopular plan to develop the site in 2013, which included the installation of an aluminaire house and eight accompanying residential units there. The former playground is located within the confines of the Sunnyside Gardens Historic District.
The developer, however, was unsuccessful in moving the idea forward after the community board, local officials, and the Landmarks Preservation Commission shot down the project.
Around this time, Van Bramer started working on securing city funds to buy the property and turn it into a public park. In 2016, he secured $3 million to acquire and renovate it.
The department of Citywide Administrative Services later stepped in to negotiate a sale.
Van Bramer secured another $2.5 million in the city’s 2020 budget to go toward the renovation.
Van Bramer said he wanted to make sure there are ample funds to make sure the park/playground is overhauled properly.
“This is a whole new park and we want it done right,” he said.
The council member said it is rear for the city to buy property and build new parks.
“This has always been a privately-owned lot—so it means a lot to me that it is now a public park and named after Michael Davidson,” Van Bramer said.
Davidson’s death came while the city was in the midst of approving the purchase of the site.
Sunnyside resident Eileen Connolly-Goodwin, who was next-door neighbors with the Davidson family at Phipps Houses in the 80s, was an advocate for naming the park in his honor. She recalls Michael and her two children playing together at the playground in the 1980s.
“I cannot think of anybody more fitting to have the park named after than a man who died in the line of duty, leaving behind a beautiful wife with four children,” Connolly-Goodwin said.
She said she recalls seeing Michael as a child in the playground.
The council member said he attended Davidson’s funeral, and was touched to learn of the fallen firefighter’s love for the neighborhood and active involvement in the community.
“Naming the new playground after him is very fitting,” Van Bramer said.
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