USA: Million-dollar plan to breathe new life into Long Island

Image copyright General Atlantic

Since Donald Trump became president there have been developments across the US, including many community parks.

But new owners of an old cinema in Long Island have announced that they will fund a $30m (£23m) facelift for two acres of parkland

Back in the 1920s the New York institution was part of a huge sprawling lot. But after it closed in 2007, the land became a site of violence.

But after recent talks between businessmen Charles Epstein and Jason Knapp and New York officials, the land has been bought back and a $30m (£23m) facelift announced.

The park will include a 26,000-square-foot heated pool, lighted basketball court, gymnasium, trees and flowers.

It is hoped that it will be completed by next summer.

Among the fans of the plan is Noel Janicki, a builder who spent years working on projects that used scraps of demolished buildings for use as flood protection.

He wants the nature of the park to express the way people have been using the land for decades: as a place to relax, play sports and visit friends and families.

Image copyright New York Mayor Bill de Blasio

“They have historical documents that say the best image you can have of America is if you have a big baseball field with a playground and shops,” he says.

“If it looks like a place that has seen all the people, sports, places where people go after work, there’s nothing wrong with that.”

Image copyright Jason Knapp Image caption Jason Knapp with New York City mayor Bill de Blasio

“I love a bit of nostalgia, but this won’t be a place to visit. This is the future.”

New York mayor Bill de Blasio says the revived park has more to do with better public transport connections than specific policy, and has pledged New York will set an example to the rest of the world.

“They have a unique opportunity,” he says. “If they can do it on Long Island, we want to make sure we can be an economic driver for every borough of New York City – not just New York City.

“We have taken so many steps to encourage private investment and industrial development that I want to let others know that it’s easy.”

In an ironic twist, for a locale where there has been a boom in culture, the problems on Long Island have been not dissimilar to those that have struck many other parts of the US and made it one of the most racially divided regions in the world.

In the 1920s, land was sold on the site to those whose property was stitched into the Overbrook housing project, the precursor to the gritty L train to downtown Brooklyn, in the east.

In 1929, more than 100 Ku Klux Klan supporters led by the Reverend Kenneth Walker gathered at the public meeting place to attack blacks and Jewish people.

In the 1930s and 1940s, Long Island was full of segregationist boards, segregationists and extensive, often illegal segregation of public facilities.

Anyone who has visited the island over the last half-century knows the work that is still needed there.

But hopes are also high that the $30m investment in this former cinema space could inspire a resurgence in Long Island’s whitest suburbia.

Image copyright Mr Knapp Image caption Jason Knapp with mayor Bill de Blasio and council president James Oddo of Staten Island

“It sends a strong signal, especially when you have a partner like Princeville, which is so involved in economic development,” says Gary Somerville, director of the Freeport Museum.

“When Princeville is throwing money at a project, we’re doing the same.”

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