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Long Island City waterfront parks get some new blood

A new Hunters Point South Park volunteer group joins forces with the 15-year-old Friends of Gantry Park team. Photo courtesy Bill Bylewski
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A new stewardship group is forming to care for the greenspace in Long Island City’s waterfront parks. The Hunters Point Conservancy will be a microcosm of what LIC has become — a mix of older, long-term residents with a new, more youthful dynamic.

Coffeed owner Frank Raffaele hosted a community meeting at his coffee house Friday evening and 20 volunteers began putting together committees for Friends of Hunters Point South Park. The new group will join with Friends of Gantry Park to establish an umbrella group called Hunters Point Parks Conservancy.

“Anyone who goes into that park knows what an asset it is,” Raffaele said. “It’s the neighborhood’s front lawn and we have to do everything we can to take care of it.”

In addition to the original coffee roastery and café, at 37-18 Northern Blvd., Raffaele, 40, is opening a concession in the park called LIC Landing by Coffeed as early as April.

“We will need corporate sponsors down the line, but we will provide the initial burst of capital with seed money from a portion of the sales at LIC Landing,” Raffaele said.

That kind of philanthropy is nothing new for Raffaele and his partners. They have put portions of the proceeds toward local charities since opening their first coffee house last year — 10 percent of all coffee sales and 5 percent of all food sales.

The formation of the conservancy is welcome news to Bill Bylewski, the 52-year-oldpresident of Friends of Gantry Park, a Long Island City resident since 1997.

“It will bring an influx of new and youthful energy to our efforts in our park and the new one just to the south,” Bylewski said. “It’s like a breath of fresh air. Frank and his partners are such good, civic-minded businessmen. We’re going to make sure that all the energy is spread out across our waterfront in both parks.”

Friends of Gantry is now 15 years old and, while they still draw 400 volunteers a year to look after the greenery in the park, the membership has dropped off in recent years.

“Our core is down to 10 members and you can say things had waned since the early years when we faced the toughest problems in the park,” Bylewski said.

Raffaele and Bylewski have to maintain separate nonprofits because the parks are controlled by different government bodies. Gantry Plaza State Park is administered by the state, while Hunters Point South is run by the city. With the joint conservancy they will tend to both greenspaces with an eye on expanding.

“Eventually the conservancy will spread to all the other parks along our waterfront, even north to Socrates, Rainey and Astoria parks,” Raffaele said. “We’re building towards that critical mass.”

The same can be said of the Coffeed brand. Raffaele and his three partners will have four locations when LIC Landing opens.

“We have the original roastery and café in the Standard Parts Building on Northern Boulevard, a satellite shop in the CUNY Law School in Court Square and a location in Port Washington,” Coffeed co-founder Jie Whoon Kang said. “LIC Landing will make it four and we have several other things in the works in other parts of Queens as well.”

Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparry@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4538.

Posted 12:00 am, March 14, 2014
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