As the Seaside Park borough council continues its discussions on the redevelopment of several properties around town, a preliminary proposal by a resident to turn the former Park Central apartment site into a public park and market with kiosks and green space was pitched to the borough council.
Park Central, located at Central and 3rd avenues, was acquired by the borough through eminent domain and must be utilized for a public purpose. The building has been demolished and discussions about its future are ongoing. Resident Brian Tracy, an architect with a firm in Philadelphia who is also a member of the borough’s Environmental Committee, volunteered to draw up plans for to create the unique space which would feature a gazebo, pop-up shops and open space where people could relax during the day. The park could also host events.
“This space must be used for something for the public, so we got together to see what we could do – what kind of space we could create – where everyone could benefit,” said Tracy, who worked pro-bono and donated his architectural and planning skills. “There is nothing in it for me except to do something for all of you – to do something for Seaside.”
Tracy said he envisions the space being professionally landscaped with native plants, natural buffers in between the park and surroundings homes, and peaceful “up-lighting” at night for safety and aesthetics. The park would feature a gazebo and a few small kiosk-style buildings could be constructed that would be able to host pop-up markets in the summer, the holiday season and other times of year.
“It seems like it would be perfect for a holiday market, like Bryant Park [in New York City],” said Councilwoman Gina Condos.
Tracy said idea was to create a space that would engage residents and visitors without competing with the existing, permanent businesses in town.
“Pop-up shops are all the rage around the country right now,” he said. “There are some stores in Point Pleasant and elsewhere that would love to have a pop-up shop in the summer. There could be face-painting, other crafts – not competing with the stores that are already there, but to create some vitality.”
Tracy also envisioned picnic tables where visitors could stop on a windy summer day or kids could have a sandwich on the way to the bay to go crabbing or fishing.
“People walking would really have a great space to walk in, rest in, and with the flowers and vines it would be very inviting,” Tracy explained. “We could also add some up-lighting, and tt should look nice even when it’s not in use.”
Councilman Marty Wilk said such a space could also serve as an “information center” for the borough – an approachable booth where visitors could obtain local guidance or find out about what’s happening in town.
“There was an idea to have food trucks and vendors, and I wasn’t in favor of that,” said Wilk. “I wanted something a little nicer, and that’s how the booths came about.”
Officials said the utilities that ran to Park Central remain in place, and could be used with any project that replaces it.
While a decision on the fate of the property is far from finalized – much less funded – the idea of a public park drew praise from officials and residents at a recent borough council meeting.
“I like this, and I hope if it goes forward, it works,” said resident Mitch Koppelman, who suggested restrooms might have to be added if businesses are located in the park. “But I hope we’re not making anything too expensive or too permanent, and if it doesn’t work, after five years we could sell the property.”
The low-intensity nature of the proposal, Koppelman said, makes it more attractive.
Another resident raised concern about “open” booths at night, however Tracy said each booth could be closed at night and would have an aesthetically-pleasing security door that would close down. A civil engineer, he said, would likely be able to help choose lighting that would be attractive and utilitarian at the same time, keeping the site safe without bothering neighbors.
“We’re not creating hiding places,” he said. “There would be lights and we can keep the park safe.”
Another resident said she was much in favor of the idea, envisioning the Park Central site as a perfect place for a Halloween celebration, the borough’s Christmas tree lighting and other events that take place all year long.
Tracy said such events were at the center of the proposal – utilizing the site as a place to bring the borough together and create new traditions and events in the summer and beyond.
“I like the concept,” said Condos. “I love the green booths, keeping the gazebo and keeping that feel of what we have elsewhere. We could use this as an impetus to improve other things and make it more inviting.”
Additional residents also gave their endorsement to the plan, which would include also include a bike rack, water bottle filling station and canopies for relaxation.
Tracy said his plan is conceptual in nature, but if it receives support from fellow residents and borough officials, would need the input of an engineer and planner. The borough would also have to locate sources of funding for the creation of the park, but would likely be able to sustain it with revenue from the seasonal businesses that lease booth space at the market.
“The point is that this park would be open to everyone, year round,” said Tracy. “Back when I was a kid, we had some spaces like this, and we loved them.”