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Mayor opens new park in Maspeth on gas tank site

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Mayor Michael Bloomberg visited Maspeth to officially open a new park Monday, but some civic leaders accused lawmakers of joining the celebrations when they actually hindered the park’s progress.

“It’s a wonderful space,” Bloomberg said of the $20 million, 6.5-acre Elmhurst Park. “It is difficult to recall what this industrial site used to look like.”

But City Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village), who was also on hand, remembers exactly what it used to look like.

The parcel of land used to be home to the Maspeth Tanks, large red cylinders 275 feet in diameter that housed natural gas for the area. They were owned by Keyspan, which later was purchased by National Grid.

Even as a child Crowley wanted the space to be used for the entire neighborhood.

“I used to imagine that the gas tanks could be swimming pools,” she said. “However, a new generation can appreciate this space in a whole different way.”

The tanks were removed in the 1990s and a complicated series of events resulted in Keyspan selling the plot to the city for $1.

U.S. Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-Jackson Heights) called the park a “wonderful, wonderful victory” and state Assemblywoman Marge Markey (D-Maspeth) said “great things happen when the government and the community work together.”

But some members of the community wondered why Crowley and Markey were there in the first place.

According to activists Tony Nunziato and Robert Holden, president of the Juniper Valley Park Association, the congressman and the assemblywoman stood in the way of the community’s quest to obtain the park.

“It’s tough to see some of the people here that didn’t lend a hand and told us not to continue,” Holden said.

Holden and the civic campaigned extensively for the city to buy the park and brokered a deal with Keyspan to hold off on selling the property until they could raise enough money.

But he said that before the agreed-upon time had elapsed, Crowley met with Keyspan and found out the company planned to develop the property instead. But Crowley never told Holden and the civic.

“It set us back two months,” Holden said.

And Markey told the two men Keyspan owed it to its stockholders to develop the property and advised Nunziato and Holden to stop advocating for the park after it appeared hopeless that the civic would get its wish, according to Nunziato.

“She is riding our coattails,” Nunziato said. “But when the champagne is popping, she is right there to pull out a glass.”

But they wore “Thank you Mayor” stickers on their suits with complete sincerity.

“This is one thing that he did that was great,” Holden said.

Bloomberg was instrumental in getting Keyspan to turn over the property for $1. Markey and Crowley also negotiated with the energy company for the property.

Reach reporter Joe Anuta by e-mail at januta@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4566.

Updated 10:50 am, October 12, 2011
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