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Officials contribute $713K to sprucing up Fort Totten

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The money is just the beginning of a $10 million investment to create a park and restored...

By Cynthia Koons

On the roof of a Civil War-era lookout at Fort Totten, officials endured windy conditions last week to announce $713,000 worth of improvements to the Army grounds.

The money is just the beginning of a $10 million investment to create a park and restored museum out of the now slightly run-down, overgrown fortress overlooking Little Bay and the Throgs Neck Bridge.

“When this park opens to the public, New Yorkers will enjoy unparalleled access to the waterfront,” Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe told the April 7 news conference.

The fort was decommissioned by the Defense Department in 1995 and is being formally turned over to the city for parkland. The Department of Parks and Recreation is supposed to assume responsibility for the Fort Totten park once the restorations to the grounds and museum are completed. Renovations will include new signage, lampposts, weeding and improved security fencing. A time frame for the project was not given.

State Sen. Frank Padavan (R-Bellerose), who contributed about $475,000 from state grant money to the project, said the improvements to Fort Totten were 20 years in the making.

“We have a ways to go but certainly we have a good start,” Padavan said. “Many, many more things will happen here over the next few years as this becomes a park and a jewel in New York City.”

An additional $167,000 was donated by the borough president and $88,000 came from the mayor’s office.

All the officials gathered at the fort, including Borough President Helen Marshall and Borough Parks Commissioner Richard Murphy, agreed the waterfront site was one of the most exquisite in the city.

“This is one of the wonders of our country, never mind our city and our state,” Marshall said. “We’ve been working for a long time on tourism. We’re selling Queens to the world.”

Benepe said the development of Fort Totten could not have been possible without the diligent work of area residents.

“It’s really the unsung citizens and unsung public servants that made this possible,” Benepe said.

“We just have always been, not so much fighting but present and vigilant so nothing could happen to these battlements,” Geraldine Spinella of the Bayside Historical Society said.

The former curator of the museum, Jack Fein, said he hopes the Parks Department handles the development of the site properly since he is not included in future plans for the fort’s improvement.Officials contribute $713K to sprucing up Fort Totten

He inherited responsibility for the museum in 1952 from an Army general, after Fein served in Panama for two years.

Since the Parks Department has insisted on assuming responsibility for the museum, Fein has taken his collection and is establishing another room with war artifacts in a different part of the fort.

He said his collection included some of his personal Army memorabilia as well as donated items.

“It belongs to you,” he said of his collection. “It belongs to me. It belongs to the public.”

Reach reporter Cynthia Koons by e-mail at news@timesledger.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 141.

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