The Observer: Who’s keeping an eye on the park?

10/13/2010 5:31 PM |

I love Mitchell Park, I really do. It is the centerpiece of the Village of Greenport. Its heart and soul.
And at no time was this more self-apparent than during the recent Maritime Festival, when the park bustled from dawn to dusk with activities, from the marina to the carousel, from the boardwalk to the pirates’ temporary playhouse.
I’m old enough to remember the fire that destroyed the original Mitchell’s, and the years of confusion and inactivity that followed. And the relief and appreciation that followed the international design competition that resulted in the park we all know (and most of us love).
And that is why I’m concerned about a series of changes, some of them small, made to the park over the last few years, changes that could be at odds with the original design by the firm now known as SHoP Architects.
As you may recall, the awarding of the bid to the firm then known as Sharples did not come easily. It followed months of intense debate within the village and, in fact, the contract went to the firm ranked third by the competition judges. And because the Sharples design was contemporary ­— not the Mystic Seaport-inspired theme many people favored — the park remained somewhat controversial after it was finished.
But is it finished? Not really, judging by the aforementioned changes, including, but not limited to, the addition of restrooms, the installation of the Rotary clock and George Hubbard memorial tree, and the extension of the harbor walk to link up with the Chowder Pot Pub. (There also are some lingering concerns about upkeep and maintenance of the park facilities themselves, the boardwalk light boxes in particular.)
(Disclosure: At the west end of the harbor walk, the storage of two traditional rowing dories, one of them sponsored by The Suffolk Times, is one of the small changes that has taken place on an impromptu basis.)
Although none of these changes is, in and of itself, a Big Problem, collectively they add up to a pattern that suggests that nobody — including SHoP Architects — is overseeing future development of the park to ensure that it is consistent with the original design and vision. And that’s most ironic because almost exactly two years ago village attorney Joseph Prokop created a nonprofit entity presumedly designed for that purpose.
So far, Mr. Prokop has not returned several of my phone calls, but Friends of Mitchell Park was registered with the New York Department of State on Oct. 8, 2008, and I’m told, by an informed source, was funded with a $600,000 bequest from the will of Richard Mitchell, an heir of the family that operated the restaurant/motel/marina before the aforementioned 1978 fire.
But as far as I can tell, the Friends have never convened nor spent a dime, and nobody (except, presumably, Mr. Prokop) seems to know why — including Mayor David Nyce, who referred me to Mr. Prokop when I inquired this week about the Friends.
I am not suggesting that anything untoward has transpired, only that it’s far past time to appoint an independent board to oversee the future and the fortunes of Mitchell Park. That way, perhaps the restroom building would have been sited where Sharples originally wanted it, behind the post office, not obscuring the harbor view; the style of the Rotary clock would have complemented, not clashed with, the contemporary design of the carousel; the Hubbard tree would not have been placed in such a way that it will, presumably, grow to block the view of the carousel from Front Street; and the Chowder Pot boardwalk would be consistent with the overall vision, not an ad hoc addition approved only by the Village Board. At a minimum, this extension should have been designed to complement the park.
Architect Bill Sharples did return my call this week, and he is not alarmed that his firm has not been consulted about changes and additions to the park. That’s not unusual, he says, particularly when there has been a change in administrations.
But he does add these cautionary words: “Mitchell Park is built out. One more building would compromise it.”
Calling all friends of Mitchell Park.
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