Southampton Town Officially Turns Steinbeck Park Over To Sag Harbor Village; Grounds Open To Public

Southampton Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman and Sag Harbor Village Mayor Kathleen Mulcahy sign the papers transferring John Steinbeck Waterfront Park from the Southampton Town to Sag Harbor Village. DANA SHAW

It’s official: Sag Harbor Village has a new waterfront park.

With roughly 150 people watching, Sag Harbor Village Mayor Kathleen Mulcahy and Southampton Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman signed an inter-municipal agreement Friday morning, transferring management of the John Steinbeck Waterfront Park to the village and opening the grounds to the public.

The town purchased the 1.25-acre parcel from developer Jay Bialsky for $10.5 million on July 24, using proceeds from its Community Preservation Fund program, which is supported by a 2 percent real estate transfer tax collected by the town to fund the purchase of open space, parkland, and historic properties and structures.

The moment capped a morning in Sag Harbor dedicated to community and cooperation at an event attended by government officials, business leaders and residents, accompanied by the Rum Hill Rockers, with Deanna Locascio belting out “America the Beautiful,” “Sitting by the Dock on the Bay” and, finally, “Here Comes the Sun,” as festivities wrapped up with the signing of the contract.

Sag Harbor Village Trustee James Larocca addresses the crowd at the John Steinbeck Waterfront Park on Friday. DANA SHAW

“The event we are marking today is really centuries in the making,” said Sag Harbor Village Trustee Jim Larocca, who led efforts, alongside former Mayor Sandra Schroeder, over the last four years to secure the 1.25-acre parcel for public use. “During the earliest times on this soil, there were tribal communities that derived their livelihood from two things — from the waterfront and from agriculture. And all these years later, we are in a new period of time where we are adapting to the ever-changing face of what life is like on the South Fork.”

While Sag Harbor Village industry evolved from a community of whalers to an industrial port, tourism and recreation is the core of its economy, said Mr. Larocca.

“But we are also a vibrant, dynamic community, a real mix of people,” he said. “One of the things that has happened in post-industrial times here and throughout the State of New York and the Northeast is that communities with our kind of history are in the process of reorienting their relationship with the waterfront. What we are doing here today is recapturing a vital piece of this waterfront — a vital, open piece of this waterfront — and it is part and parcel of the renewal this community must do, and is part and parcel of the economy we have that attracts people here.”

When arriving at the ceremony, guests walked onto the open expanse next to the Lance Corporal Jordan C. Haerter Veterans Memorial Bridge. The park is, so far, only developed with a split-rail fence and a handful of benches and picnic tables. On Friday, a tent covered the band, a handful of seats and refreshments provided and served by Jesse Matsuoka, the co-owner of Sen Japanese Restaurant and K Pasa, both located in Sag Harbor.

Mr. Larocca noted that much that had been done with the park so far, including the Friday morning celebration, was the result of robust volunteerism by people committed to the village. Those volunteers are led by landscape designer Ed Hollander, a Sag Harbor resident who donated his time to re-imagine what the park might look like as it is developed over time and has helped lead a group of landscapers and architects through the process of preparing the public park for passive use.

Sag Harbor Village Trustee James Larocca recognizes former Mayor Sandra Schroeder. DANA SHAW

Mr. Larocca reserved special praise for Ms. Schroeder, seated with the crowd during the event, without whom, he said, the park “would not have been possible.”

“The morning of her election, she invited me to take her vacant seat as she moved up from trustee, and the first thing we talked about was the waterfront and this park,” he said. “And in the four years and two days since we passed a resolution in the summer of 2015, there has not been a day where her commitment to this project and getting this done had lagged at all.”

“How awesome is this park,” exclaimed Mr. Schneiderman. “It’s beautiful. We have been talking about different park improvements, and coming here today, it is already beautiful — it’s a gorgeous park.”

Mr. Schneiderman was joined at the event by Southampton Town councilmen John Bouvier and Tommy John Schiavoni, who were seated with Sag Harbor Village Trustee Thomas Gardella, State Senator Kenneth P. LaValle, Suffolk County Legislator Bridget Fleming and Wharf Shop co-owner Nada Barry.

Mr. LaValle, one of the architects of the CPF law, praised his colleague, Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr., who could not attend Friday’s event, but, like Mr. LaValle, helped to develop the CPF program — the fund that enabled the town to purchase Steinbeck Park, among many other preservation efforts across the East End.

“When we talk about the CPF, the linchpin to make this happen, Fred certainly in his leadership was instrumental,” he said.

“Preservation is a critically important thing,” Mr. LaValle said later in his remarks. “And all of us who are here today and many, many more are into preservation, whether it is land or property, and this is a good thing — preserving heritage should be number one, and it is just great with Fred Thiele be involved in doing some of these things, with many of you, to preserve our heritage.”

Many speakers said it was fitting that the park be named for John Steinbeck, the Pulitzer Prize- and Nobel Prize-winning author who called Sag Harbor home for 15 years, writing two of his novels, “The Winter of Our Discontent” and “Travels with Charlie,” while living in the village.

Ms. Mulcahy furnished Mr. Schneiderman with a copy of “Travels with Charlie” as she got up to address the crowd.

“We could not do this by ourselves, and we are so thrilled to be able to have this all,” said Ms. Mulcahy. “Today marks the beginning of a new look for Sag Harbor Village. This great, green gateway to our village is magnificent, and it is such a real, lasting gift for the people of Sag Harbor.

“Our goal is that, long term, this becomes a respite where people can come and enjoy, catch their breath in the middle of a crazy summer season, go out to a picnic table and watch the beautiful red sunsets we have so often,” she continued. “Eat, drink, be merry. Learn, read, listen. Many future generations can use this park, and thanks to all of the people that are here today.

Sag Harbor Village Mayor Kathleen Mulcahy. DANA SHAW

“In the next 12 months, our hope is people will start using this, will wander in and will teach us how they want to use this park,” she said. “Ed Hollander, you have done wonderful, magnificent plans — there is a beautiful concept board everyone can see. That’s our start, but it is not our finish. We are going to see what the people want, how the people use and go from there and make it a park for the people.

“But whatever we do,” she added, “I promise you will still be able to see the sunset behind me, because that is the best part.”

“We are also very honored to be able to name this park for John Steinbeck,” she said.

“Actually, 59 years ago this month, he drove over that bridge, as Tommy John Schiavoni mentioned, heading for Shelter Island in his trip across the country, leaving behind his adopted hometown at this point that he referred to once as a ‘handsome town.’ Now, probably 59 years ago, when he drove over that bridge, this wasn’t so handsome. There was a parking lot, there was a building, there was a gas ball or tank even in those days. It wasn’t that beautiful town he described so well in so many of his books, but it was his hometown, and he loved it.

“And that is how we feel about Sag Harbor. This is our hometown, and we love it — and this just makes it more beautiful and more handsome.”