BY MARK NIMAR | Chelsea residents arrived with a great sense of purpose for an April 16 meeting at Hudson Guild (441 W. 26th St., btw. 9th & 10th Aves.).
Representatives from the NYC Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR) were on hand, to discuss the upcoming renovation of the neighborhood’s beloved Chelsea Basketball Court, as well as the surrounding Chelsea Park.
The DPR set up the meeting so they can incorporate community members’ thoughts and ideas into the design of the new park and court.
The Chelsea Basketball Court is a special meeting point for locals, and a fixture of the neighborhood. Many longtime residents recall the basketball court as being a place for impromptu pickup games, lively tournaments, and the location where lifelong friendships were forged. Now that the City has allocated 943,000 dollars in capital funds to improve this park (which includes $375,000 from New York City Council Speaker Corey Johnson’s District 3 office), the community members want their voices to be heard.
Improvements for the beloved basketball court will be happening fast. Steve Simon, the meeting’s moderator and the Manhattan Chief of Staff for the DPR, announced at the meeting that artist Robert Otto Epstein will be painting a temporary mural on the basketball court this May. Facebook will be funding Epstein’s mural as part of its artist-in-residence program.
Simon said that the artist and his team will be “fixing the asphalt, putting the mural down, and then putting some seal coat on top of it,” resulting in an “immediate improvement for the community.”
The vibrant color and unique design of the mural will also make the site a major attraction for New Yorkers, and will bring positive attention to the neighborhood, Simon confidently speculated.
Another topic of discussion at the meeting was the new court’s ability to accommodate the neighborhood’s annual basketball tournament. Every August, Elzora Cleveland, a 50-year resident of Chelsea, holds the Grazhopa Basketball Tournament, in remembrance of her late brother, Theodore, a “world trade center survivor, a well-respected community leader and father of 4 who passed away from a heart attack at the tender age of 36,” according to an Aug. 2012 Proclamation by Ranger Bob (the self-described Parks Chelsea Parks Commissioner).
The Grazhopa Basketball Tournament is a fun, nine-hour event not only lets people enjoy a game of basketball, but also provides a shared experience to bring Chelsea residents closer together.
“These are different years of people showing up at this tournament,” said Cleveland, displaying the event’s high attendance in a collection of photos she brought to the meeting. She requested, from DPR, lighting for the court, electricity access for sound equipment, “water access,” and “retractable bleachers” for the tournament “that could be locked up in the evening.”
It’s “wishful thinking,” Cleveland said, regarding the bleachers, “but I can put it out there.”
The conversation later turned to the design of the court, after the temporary mural. A community member proposed putting the inscription “Home of the Graz” in the center of the court, honoring the Grazhopa Tournament’s namesake.
“Our general rule of thumb,” Simon replied, “is that we have our official Park’s leaf in the center of the courts.”
He did say, however, “We can take [your suggestion] back and see if our people upstairs will agree to that.”
Some other discussed features of the court included whether to have triple rims on the court’s backboards, the replacement of the park’s old exercise machines, and whether to include an additional rim, sized specifically for children.
These may seem like small details—but for Chelsea residents, these things. “This community is extremely moved by this park,” said an attendee of the meeting.
The DPR will present its redesign plan at an upcoming Community Board 4 meeting.
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