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City eyes cafe for Jamaica’s Rufus King Park

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By the time the daffodils are blooming in the spring, Rufus King Park in downtown Jamaica could have a small café to sell snacks, complete with tables and chairs.

The city Parks Department is hoping to put out a request for proposals within the next month to find a plan and a person to operate the café, Ernestine Ward, from Partnership for Parks, told last week’s Community Board 12 meeting.

“We felt a café would be great for the community,” she said. “It’s great for the community that lives there and great for the community that works there.”

The request for proposals has not been released yet, but the city is looking for a vendor to set up shop in the comfort station at Rufus King Park, which is located at Jamaica Avenue between 150th and 153rd streets, said Anthony Macari, of the Parks Department.

The vendor would be responsible for designing the part of the comfort station under his control as well as the construction, Macari said. The vendor will also manage the café, and maintain the restrooms and the area within a 50-foot radius.

The idea for the café came out of planning sessions and surveys of area residents on how to improve the park, a part of a JM Kaplan grant of $35,000. The grant was used to hire consultants Project for Public Spaces, the non-profit group that organized the surveys for Rufus King Park and other area green spaces, like Baisley Pond Park, Ward said.

“Parks can raise up or pull down a community,” she said. “Downtown Jamaica should be an oasis of culture, history and recreation.”

But some community board members felt that a café was unnecessary at the park.

“There’s nothing there for the children,” said Rueben Holder. “They want soccer fields. It doesn’t even have a decent size playground.”

Others were concerned that a café would detract from historic King Manor, the home of Rufus King, one of the framers of the Constitution.

“Rufus King should be the focus of the park and that area,” said board member Elaine Jackson. “I’m not sure that would complement the purpose of having an historic house museum there.”

But Macari assured the board that they are working with the museum staff as well as the Historic House Register to ensure that the café does not conflict with the feeling of the park.

“We feel this area might very well work with this concept,” he said. “It’s a pretty park, and the tables could be nice for breakfast or lunch.”

Proposals for the café would be rated on a series of criteria, including factors like the menu, the overall design, the vendor’s experience and more, Macari said. The Parks Department would also like to see jobs created for area residents, and ideally the vendor would be from the area, as well, Macari said.

But Community Board 12 Chairman James Davis was worried that the immediate neighbors of the park would not want a café there.

“I don’t want to make a decision without their input,” he said.

Although the Parks Department can issue the request for proposals without the approval of the community board, Macari said the city is willing to wait for the board to talk to residents around the park.

Reach reporter Courtney Dentch by e-mail at TimesLedger@aol.com, or by phone at 229-0300, Ext. 138.

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