Ceremony Set to Mark Opening of Steinbeck Park as a Public Space

A split rail fence goes up on Tuesday at the John Steinbeck Park site. Peter Boody photo

After four years of negotiations, next week officials from Sag Harbor Village and Southampton Town will gather next week to celebrate the opening of the John Steinbeck Waterfront Park, named for the author who wrote “The Winter of Our Discontent” in Sag Harbor, but found contentment at home in the seaside village that embraced him and his wife, Elaine.

On Friday, August 16, at 10 a.m., the town will formally transfer management of the parcel to the village in a ceremony on the waterfront property next to the Lance Corporal Jordan Haerter Veterans Memorial Bridge, according to a press release issued jointly by the town and village on August 2.

The town purchased the 1.25-acre plot from developer Jay Bialsky for $10.5 million on July 24 through its Community Preservation Fund, which is supported by a two-percent real estate tax collected by the town to fund the purchase of open space, parkland and historic properties and structures.

Mr. Bialsky owns the adjacent 2 West Water Street property, on which he won approval this spring to build three luxury condominiums. In the press release issued last week, it was announced two of the condominiums will be priced at $21.95 million and $19.95 million when they hit the market. Mr. Bialsky plans to live in the third with his wife and two daughters.

The effort to turn the parcel, once known as 1, 3 and 5 Ferry Road, into public parkland dates back decades although it was just over four years ago that earnest discussions began about a CPF purchase from the co-owner of the property at that time, Greystone Development.

Led by then-mayor Sandra Schroeder and Trustee Jim Larocca, negotiations for a CPF purchase continued through several incarnations of the proposed condominium project next door with an agreement reached between Southampton Town and Greystone Development before the firm sold the properties to Mr. Bialsky in April of 2018. Mr. Bialsky, a South Fork real estate developer, immediately confirmed his interest in pushing forward with the town’s purchase of the Ferry Road property for public parkland.

“My family and I are ecstatic that we have been able to play a role in making John Steinbeck Park a reality,” said Mr. Bialsky in a press release this week.

Late last month, current village mayor Kathleen Mulcahy unveiled concept drawings for Steinbeck Park at the Village Board of Trustees work session. Prepared free of charge by landscape architect Edmund Hollander of New York and Sag Harbor, the drawings show a lush, green parcel planted with native vegetation, complimented by a wooden boardwalk at the center of the property. The boardwalk widens near the shoreline to create a mini stage near a grassy amphitheater.

The boardwalk connects to a small public dock on the west side of the property and to the east it provides a pathway under the bridge, connecting the park to Windmill Beach and eventually Long Wharf’s planned boardwalk.

“This acquisition with Community Preservation Funds from the Town of Southampton provided uninterrupted water views and a link with Long Wharf,” Town CPF Manager Lisa Kombrink said in the joint press release. “Two municipalities and many individuals worked together to get to this point.”

“This is a banner day for Sag Harbor, a community which has poured millions of dollars into the Community Preservation Fund, particularly the past few years,” said Ms. Mulcahy in the press release. “The park saves an absolutely vital piece of our waterfront from development and instead offers a lovely gateway to our village. We expect in due time this will become a beautiful amenity for residents and visitors alike. None of this would have been possible without the generous support of the town and the dedication and hard work of Mayor Sandra Schroeder and Trustee Jim Larocca, who tirelessly led this effort over the past four years.”

“The Town of Southampton is proud to partner with the Village of Sag Harbor to create this new waterfront park,” said Southampton Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman. “Steinbeck Park will enhance the village experience for everyone and honor a great American author who cherished Sag Harbor.”

Mr. Steinbeck spent the last 15 years of his life in Sag Harbor and was deeply rooted in the community, first renting a waterfront cottage in 1953 before buying a small house in an oak grove on Sag Harbor Cove in 1955. According to local historian Jim Marquardt, Mr. Steinbeck wrote to a friend, “I really love it out here. Am going to winterize this little house so I can come up when it is cold. I haven’t felt so good in years.” And later, “We love our little place on Long Island.”

Mr. Steinbeck would help found and co-chair the Old Whalers’ Festival — now referred to as HarborFest — in the 1960s and was instrumental in the building of what is now known as the John A. Ward Memorial Windmill next to Long Wharf on Windmill Beach. A Pulitzer Prize- and Nobel Prize-winning author of 27 books, including 16 novels, Mr. Steinbeck penned two of his novels — “The Winter of Our Discontent” and “Travels with Charlie” — while living in the village. He died in 1968 in New York City.

While the redevelopment of the park has yet to be funded, or fully planned, in the interim Mr. Larocca said residents will be able to enjoy the grassy parkland protected with a newly constructed split rail fence, picnic tables and benches.

“You will be able to see the park in its fledgling state and in a state where people can immediately begin to use it,” said Mr. Larocca on Monday. “It feels pretty good to get to this point after some very frustrating moments along the way. The evolution of this from an idea we started talking about in earnest four or five years ago — an idea for a waterfront park that people have talked about for generations — it has been a journey, and now I can finally say it’s  a journey that has ended well.”