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February 17, 2010

Atlantic Yards YES! New York's parks and historic sites, NO!!

While Atlantic Yards, which the Paterson administration is supporting with hundreds of millions of dollars in subsidies, promises a paltry eight acres of "publicly accessible" (private) open space (most of it planned for the highly tenuous second phase of the project), the cash-strapped state may close nearly half of our parks and historic sites this year due to — wait for it — a lack of cash. Really, you can't make this stuff up.

AP via Crain's NY Business, Closings loom for NY parks, historic sites

About 100 state parks and historic sites will likely close this year as budget woes plague the state, and high-profile attractions such as Niagra Falls and Jones Beach could make the list.

No nuptials at Niagara Falls? Jones Beach off limits on a 90-degree day? The "Grand Canyon of the East" devoid of campers?

New York's state parks system, the nation's oldest, is facing another round of funding cuts that is likely to result in the first budget-related closures in the system's 125-year history. State officials say even popular parks at Niagara Falls and Jones Beach, with attendance figures in the millions, could be closed, along with such destinations as Letchworth, a popular hiking and camping spot ringing the rugged Genesee Gorge south of Rochester.

"It's going to be pretty bad. As bad as I've ever seen it," said Robin Dropkin, executive director of Parks & Trails New York, a 25-year-old nonprofit advocacy group.

Peter Humphrey, a member of the State Council of Parks, predicts as many as 100 of New York's 213 state parks and historic sites could be shut down because of the state's fiscal problems.

Carol Ash, the commissioner of the Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, has said park closures are unavoidable in 2010 as the state deals with a multibillion-dollar budget deficit.

Gov. David Paterson's amended budget proposal calls for cutting $20 million from state parks. When added to budget cuts made in the two previous fiscal years, the agency stands to see its funding reduced by some 40% over the span of three years, Ms. Ash said.

$20 million? Bruce Ratner's basketball arena is slated for some $700 million in public assistance from the state and New York City. But what about the jobs and economic development, you ask?

The parks system will operate with 1,100 fewer people — including lifeguards, cleaners and security guards — than it had just a few years ago, is canceling its park police training academy for the third consecutive year, and will cut park police staffing this summer to 266 full and part-time uniformed officers, about half the number that were on the job in 2003.

Closing the Niagara Falls park would be a "disaster" for local businesses, said the owner of one of a handful of companies that provide wedding services on the American side of the falls.

Messers. Dropkin and Humphrey pointed out that parks' $155 million budget isn't all that much in a state that plans to spend more than $130 billion. Meanwhile, the parks system contributes $1.9 billion a year in economic activity statewide, according to one recent study.

Closing parks, Mr. Humphrey said, would cut off a revenue source while shutting out visitors looking to spend money in local communities.

"This is clearly, purely from an economic standpoint, a lose-lose," he said.

Posted by eric at February 17, 2010 10:24 PM