The Prospect Park Alliance and Mayor Bill de Blasio are announcing today that the city will allocate $40 million in the city budget to Prospect Park. This is the largest single allocation of funding from the city in the park's history and will be used to make much-needed upgrades and restorations in its northeast corner, known as the Vale.
“Prospect Park is Brooklyn’s backyard,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said in a statement to Gothamist. “It’s where I got married and raised my family, and where New Yorkers of all backgrounds come to spend time in nature. This historic $40 million in funding will ensure the Vale is restored to its full glory.”
The Vale covers 27-acres and is located in the park’s northeastern edge bordering on Flatbush Avenue. Once construction begins, the hope is they won't have to close off the entire area. And while the work will not be completed until 2025 at the earliest, the planning has already begun.
There will be a restoration of the Children's Pool in the Lower Vale, a landmarked landscape built in the 1890s that has since fallen into a state of disrepair. And the Upper Vale (which was formerly the Rose Garden) will include three major new landscapes: a sensory garden/rustic arbor, a nature play area, and a combined amphitheater and community building.
There's already been some work in that area of the park over the last couple of years with post-Sandy woodland restoration, the Flatbush Avenue perimeter restoration, and the Endale Arch restoration. There is also an $8.9 million restoration of Grand Army Plaza currently underway. And last January, they added the first new entrance to the park in 40 years.
Sue Donoghue, president of the Prospect Park Alliance, told Gothamist this was an exciting opportunity to make the area —often an afterthought for many park visitors — as accessible and welcoming as possible.
"A lot of people don't even know this area exists. I've brought so many people over there for walks and they've said, 'I've never even been to this part of the park,'" she said. "This will really allow us to take an area that has been somewhat forlorn and really rethink it with input from the community, and make it so it's a much more vibrant, active and utilized part of the park."
The former site of the Rose Garden in the Upper Vale, which has served multiple purposes since the park opened in 1867, will undergo the biggest changes. Among other things, it has previously been the site of a Children's Playground, as well as a formal Rose Garden with three pools filled with goldfish and lilies at the turn of the century.
"We're a landmarked park and limited in what we can do, but this particular area had been many different things over the years, so it's not like there's something specific we needed to go back to," Donoghue said. "What we heard was: preserve and enhance. It's a really beautiful, restorative, calming area because you're really in the woodlands. So we want to enhance that, but add some complimentary elements."
When you enter the park via the Flatbush entrance, you'll be greeted by the rustic arbor and pollinator meadow, which they are currently referring to as the sensory garden. Next is the natural play area, which is a more formal version of something Donoghue says is already a very popular activity for kids and families in the park.
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Then there's the landscaped amphitheater next to a small building that can be used as a gathering space and environmental center. It has one other essential use though: bathrooms.
"The biggest request we get for the park is more bathrooms," Donoghue said. "So we know if we're rethinking, we really need to add a comfort station that will help serve not only this area but also all those runners on the drive, and this'll be right adjacent to the park drive."
She also envisions the amphitheater being available for outdoor classes and school-based events, a "really flexible space for the community to use" as opposed to a concert space or cafe.
"What we heard from the community is they really wanted space for intergenerational play, like for parents and grandparents and kids to come and enjoy and have seating, that kind of thing. So that's really what we're going for," she added. "We've seen during COVID just how important parks and open spaces are to people all over, so it's wonderful to have this [chance] to expand access and restore further parts of the park."
The hope is that the park can spend at least the next year designing the project and getting further input from the community, so they don't expect to begin construction until late 2023/early 2024. Construction is estimated to take 12-18 months.