Images showing how Sag Harbor’s new 1.25-acre waterfront “Steinbeck Park” might look when it is fully developed and landscaped dazzled the handful of people — fewer than a dozen — who were in the audience for Mayor Kathleen Mulcahy’s first Village Board of Trustees work session on Wednesday, July 24.
During her election campaign, Ms. Mulcahy promised regular monthly work sessions at which pending projects and concerns would be aired.
“What I hope to accomplish with these work sessions is really some discussion and communication with all of you as well as all of us together,” Mayor Mulcahy said to start off the meeting.
The park imagery showed a lush, green parcel with a wooden boardwalk that would widen in the center of the property near the shoreline into a kind of mini-stage in front of a grassy amphitheater with stone seating.
The boardwalk would connect the park to a small public dock on the west border of the property and, on the east, take strollers under the bridge to Windmill Park and a boardwalk that will be built on Long Wharf.
The images included a shady, circular “raised dining grove” with tables and chairs and small structures nearby for rest rooms, park maintenance and a possibly food cart storage. At the western boundary of the parcel, there is also a circular wooden staircase to provide access to an elevated viewing platform.
“This is very much conceptual work,” Mayor Mulcahy said of the sparkling images that were shown on the two video monitors in the Municipal Building meeting room.
They were prepared earlier this year by landscape architect Edmund Hollander’s firm in New York after months of consultation with village residents and officials, Mr. Hollander said in an interview this week. Mr. Hollander is a local homeowner whose firm planned the renovation of Long Wharf set to begin in September.
“This is the first time this has been shared with the public,” the mayor said of the renderings, adding that the village was still seeking suggestions from the public for changes, additions and deletions.
“This is the first of many conversations we’ll have on the park,” she promised.
The mayor turned over the presentation — one of three “discussion items” on the work session agenda — to Trustee James Larocca, who has been the Village Board’s liaison overseeing the park plan, which has been slowly unfolding for many years. The other discussion topics were the Long Wharf project, the details of which were reported in this newspaper last week, and appointments to her new Environmental Advisory Committee.
Prompting applause from the audience, his first order of business was to announce that the Town of Southampton’s Community Preservation Fund had closed that very day on its purchase of the park property from 2 West Water Street developer Jay Bialsky at a cost of $10.5 million.
Mr. Larocca also announced that “we will close on” an intermunicipal agreement with the town, under which the village will control and manage the property as a park, “in the second week of August.”
“We have had throughout this long story various versions of what would go in this space,” Mr. Larocca said, which “didn’t look so big until all the buildings came down” almost a year ago. “It’s very exciting” to ponder “what do we do with it,” he said, adding there have been “enough suggestions to fill Central Park twice.”
The property is now an open, level, grass-and-weed patch. There is no budget, Mr. Larocca noted, to turn the property into the native tree- and shrub-filled park envisioned in the renderings, “and we have not tried too hard to cost-out the concept.”
Southampton Town Councilman Tommy John Schiavoni, who helped shepherd through the Town Board’s agreement to purchase the property for preservation, called the renderings “gorgeous” at the meeting and noted they “may not exactly be what the park turns out to be.” But “we envision this becomes one of the great public spaces of the East End.”
“People define the park,” Mr. Larocca said. “Two kids and a ball may be all the improvement you need.” Because of the costs, “We can’t do it all at once economically,” he said. “I think we’ll learn as we go what’s going to work.”
Mr. Hollander noted in a phone interview that talk of a park goes back perhaps 20 years to previous potential developers of the property, formerly known as 1,3,5 Ferry Road. When Mr. Bialsky purchased it along with 2 West Water Street, he agreed to sell the parcel to the Town of Southampton through its Community Preservation Fund.
“For the past couple of years” under Mayor Sandra Schroeder, Mr. Hollander said, “we put together and advisory committee” that included trustees, members of the municipal boards, the Sag Harbor Partnership, Save Sag Harbor and other citizen groups.
“I’m happy to design the park but I really need input from different voices telling us what should and should not be in the park,” he said.
He said he sees the park planning process “as a real opportunity to do something that will be environmentally beneficial as well as recreational.”
He said Mayor Schroeder had rejected the idea of allowing food carts in a designated area in the park, although the conceptual renderings still include that option. He believes Mayor Mulcahy now wants the plan publicized, he said, “to start getting some discussion going on.” Trustee Aidan Corish’s design firm, Tangram, he noted, designed the food carts that operate in New York City’s elevated High Line park on the West Side.
Mr. Hollander suggested that a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization be created to begin fundraising for the park. Even if plans were finalized soon, he added, it would take six months to a year for his firm to draft the specifications and final plans that contractors would need to proceed with the work.
Asked if there is “a quarterback” to move the park project forward, he said, “There isn’t anybody in the village structure to be the quarterback.” But “this is what I do for a living; I know how to do it, but I don’t know if I’m the quarterback. At least, I’m looking for the ball.”
“We’ve made great progress and we have a great design. We’re at a crossroads,” he said, “of taking the schematic design and making it real.”