After hearing the details of the lease with the Village of Kings Point that Great Neck Park District signed to continue to operate and manage the 173-acre Kings Point Park for the benefit of all park district residents, I can understand better the more troubling aspects.
These include the tenfold increase in annual “rent” from $35,000 to $350,000 and an obligation to obtain $15 million in funding in the next two years to spend on improvements to Kings Point Park ($10 million) and other parkland within Kings Point village such as Steppingstone Park and the newly acquired parcel adjacent ($5 million) within five years.
Or the village can void the agreement. But those of us who want to preserve the last major parcel of undeveloped forest and protected wetlands remain skeptical.
What about the $15 million? At the meeting, Great Neck Park Superintendent Jason Marra went through much of the agreement, giving examples of some of the 27 items or projects that the district could choose to develop in the park without needing village approval – or, for that matter, park residents’ approval either since the district does not have to submit a bond to the voters, only to the Town of North Hempstead. He explained that none of the projects are actually planned, but they wanted to come up with a comprehensive list – anything they could imagine – to have maximum flexibility.
As for the $350,000 annual rent, Marra explained that they had an appraisal done which suggested that a “market rate” rental would be even more, $381,000, and that Kings Point’s own appraiser had come up with a figure of $650,000, so they are generously only asking $350,000. Really? Wouldn’t that be if the land, which is encumbered as parkland and protected wetlands, was actually developed for a private use? And wouldn’t Kings Point Village have to compensate the park district for the tennis courts, athletic fields, bridges and structures if it took the park back? (The lease also provides for 10 percent increases for each of the renewals.)
What I realized, though, was that this was compensation for the Kings Point residents who pay a big share of the park taxes, some $2 million (because their homes are the most expensive in the park district). I thought that the threat to the park district was losing access to Kings Point Park (and the village was bluffing), but actually the threat was losing Kings Point to the park district, like Great Neck Estates and Saddle Rock.
The terms of the lease actually keep Kings Point village within the park district at least for 10 years (the legal term), with automatic renewal for the next 10, 20 and 30 years. As Kings Point Mayor Kouros (Chris) Torkan said at the meeting, he wanted to do his best to insure Kings Point Park stays within the park district regardless of who succeeds him. Indeed, there is a penalty to the Village if they pull out in the first 10 years: the $10 million invested in Kings Point Park plus another $10 million.
On the morning the lease was to be signed by the park district, Kings Point brought an additional provision: if the park district is unable to obtain bonding of $15 million in two years, the village can terminate the lease without penalty.
How might the park district spend the obligatory $10 million? Superintendent Marra rattled off a list: bike trails, parking area, forest restoration, tree planting and maintenance, stream and wetland restoration, playgrounds, adult fitness, indoor/outdoor athletic facilities, indoor/outdoor tennis, pickleball courts, dog run or park, miniature golf course, golf, restrooms, nature center, sledding hill, ropes course, paddle tennis courts, picnic shelters. (Not all the $15 million in mandated improvements would be funded from bonding, some could come from grants from agencies, including the NYS DEC.)
Park watchers raised a related concern: the massive Mashadi community center that is going up on Steamboat Road abutting Kings Point Park and seeking variances of more than 30 feet in height with minimal setbacks and no parking. There is concern that the Village of Kings Point is being wooed into selling off two acres of Kings Point Park for parking (which would require state legislators to approve “alienation” of parkland) or that an “improvement” to Kings Point would be a new parking field that would mainly be used by the Mashadi center.
I feel right to be skeptical, judging by policies affecting Steppingstone Park.
This is the second year where the Steppingstone concert season has had a blockbuster concert by a famous rapper – Flo-Rida – aimed at drawing 5,000 to 7,000 (the number this year, when ticket distribution was cut off) into the park. More typical of a concert would be 500 to 1,000.
But now let’s examine the cost – and the risk/reward – of mounting a concert aimed at appealing to those who otherwise don’t care to come to a concert.
The cost of $100,000-$200,000 has meant that four Sunday night concerts have been dropped in favor of low-cost Sunday afternoon events that draw few people. And there are lots of other costs, including an army of security guards, overtime for park workers, higher production costs, and operating a battery of shuttle buses to bring people from faraway parking lots.
And then there is the “rain or shine” aspect – and the fact that gale-force winds and the possibility of thunderstorms were forecast. Around 8 p.m. Sunday when only 2,000 concertgoers were there, a sudden wind burst blew the EMS tent across the field, hitting a woman in the head who had to be taken to hospital. Moments later, a sudden downpour caused hundreds of people to dash to the building to get under cover, but gates around the make-shift bar barred entry. The drenching rain moved out fairly quickly, but that was followed by lightning flashes and thunder. Everyone took it in stride.
But what would have happened if the rain, wind, thunder and lightning had struck an hour later in the dark nd lasted longer, with 5,000 to 7,000 people jammed together without shelter and no way to get to safety?
The storm was one reason why the concert was delayed from starting at 9 p.m. to close to 10 p.m. – but that worked out for the hundreds and hundreds of people who waited 40 minutes for a shuttle bus, then waited on lines that stretched almost to the Merchant Marine Academy for 40 minutes more to show their ticket and get through the gate at 10 pm. People were leaving by 11 pm, fearful of getting caught in a crush (I left at 11:15 pm); the concert ended at 11:45 pm, and I’m told the park was empty by 12:45 am, a full hour later (the shuttle bus takes 40-60 minutes to circuit).
This is not to say the event was not well managed –thanks to Superintendent Marra and the park workers – and the concertgoers seemed to really have a good time. I just question why we need such a blockbuster event, especially if it means taking away the four Sunday night concerts. Is the anxiety, the stress and the effort worth it to offer a FOMO event?
Many (including me) are resentful of the massive VIP tent (what does that say about a community park?) that has been erected, where for $75, you get a seat, liquor and food; as well as the creation of a “boatyard” – two boats on the grass where they sell liquor. These structures, which stay up the entire season, destroy what is the most precious part of Steppingstone Park: the unobstructed view of the water and the tranquility that brings. Priceless.
We are told we have the park board to thank for bringing Flo-Rida to Great Neck. Based on that, I think we are justified to be vigilant over what “improvements” they make to Kings Point Park.