Ambitious festival plan faces leaders’ opposition

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David Rakower has grand visions for Astoria Park, a 66-acre plot of greenery that runs alongside the East River and boasts a running track, sloping lawn and the city’s largest public swimming pool.

For two days in July, he imagines the lawn and track being transformed into separate concert arenas, with stages set up on opposite ends of the park. Within the enclosed walls of the pool area would sit production and artist tents, while a food court, vendors and art displays would dot the rest of the landscape.

Rakower’s vision is to create a free two-day music festival called Play Into the Air, an event he expects would attract thousands of people to hear top-billed artists, with proceeds donated to charity.

“We’re conceptualizing this whole thing as bringing people back to New York,” said Rakower, a 27-year-old resident of 19th Street and Ditmars Boulevard who runs a start-up company called Supernova Entertainment.

Rakower intends to donate the proceeds to a charity that targets muscular dystrophy, a disease afflicting both of his younger twin brothers, one of whom died last year. He is also considering sharing the proceeds with local charities close to the hearts of other community members.

But from the perspective of George Delis, who has served for years as the district manager for Community Board 1, supporting the proposal would open a Pandora’s box.

“His motives may be good, I just think that it’s the wrong place for what he wants to do,” Delis said in a phone interview Tuesday. “Next year you’ll have a dozen more applications and they’re going to say, ‘Listen, you gave it to him, we want it, too.’”

With its East River setting and expansive lawn, Astoria Park is an attractive site for event organizers like Rakower — and one that he contends is underused.

But Delis is adamant that the festival is not appropriate for Astoria Park.

“Every year I recommend against these fantastic festivals,” Delis said, citing the example of a proposed 10-day circus he has rejected year after year. “This is the biggest and most fantastic one I’ve read so far. He wants to do a Woodstock at Astoria Park.”

“Tell me about the litter that all of these people are going to leave behind. And the damage to the turf?” Delis said. “I just don’t see it.”

Delis has suggested that the festival use the much smaller nine-acre Rainey Park, which sits at 33rd Road and the East River, an idea that does not sit well with Rakower.

“I will work with the community board in any way they want,” Rakower said. “I’ll do anything they want. But I want the park.”

Delis and City Councilman Peter Vallone Jr. (D-Astoria) both submitted letters to the Parks Department requesting that Rakower’s request for a permit be denied.

Despite the opposition, Rakower plans to pitch his proposal to the community board at its monthly meeting Tuesday night, with the hope of convincing board members to put a resolution on the table that would endorse his festival proposal.

A Parks Department spokeswoman said Queens Commissioner Richard Murphy, who has the final say in the matter, is “taking into consideration” the recommendations of Delis and Vallone and will issue his decision soon.

Delis acknowledged that his role is only advisory since the community board and the Parks Department can give their approval despite his opposition.

“The board can recommend it — if they do, that’s fine. They supersede me,” Delis said.

But he warned that approving one festival may release a tidal wave of obligation for use of the park.

“If they give it to Rakower, I will recommend that the circus gets it for 10 days next year,” he said.

Reach reporter Dustin Brown by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 154.

Updated 7:02 pm, October 10, 2011
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