park promises

Staten Island Park’s Overhaul Is Purely Cosmetic, Residents Contend

Tompkinsville Park on June 8, 2019.
Tompkinsville Park on June 8, 2019. Photo: Clifford Michel /THE CITY

Nearly a year after Mayor Bill de Blasio promised to clean up a troubled Staten Island park, locals contend the changes are all surface level.

Tompkinsville Park’s crumbling comfort station is gone. The space recently reopened with newly planted chrysanthemums, freshly sand natural wood bench slats and a drinking fountain that works.

But the park, at a busy hub a half-mile from the St. George Ferry Terminal, remains notorious among residents and community leaders as den of drinking and drugs.

“There’s still a lot of crime, a lot of heroin being sold over there,” said Clay Jones, a 22-year-old St. George resident.

When de Blasio came to Staten Island for a week last July as part of his “City Hall in Your Borough Tour,” a community activist implored him to make the park safe.

Two days later, de Blasio held a press conference and pledged to “return Tompkinsville Park to the people of the Tompkinsville community,” and tear down the long-closed comfort station.

But the activist who confronted the mayor, Bobby Digi Olisa, told THE CITY community members still feel unsafe in the area around Bay Street and Victory Boulevard.

An art gallery across the street from Tompkinsville Park asks people not to “sell heroin on this stoop.” Photo: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

“I feel like what they’ve given us right now is incomplete. They’ve given us half a vehicle,” Olisa told THE CITY. “On the one hand, it’s beautiful that it’s more open.

“But on the other hand, you could’ve done so much more. It’s like you telling someone, ‘Hey can you improve my house?’ And they knock it down and say, ‘Here you go.”

‘There are Fights Going on’

Olisa said that the key to larger change is hosting programs in the park, which dates to the 1930s.

“Between us in the community what we noticed is that when the park is not being utilized in the community we have homeless people sleeping there, drugs being utilized, there are fights going on,” said Olisa, the co-founder the community advocacy group Island Voice.

Olisa’s group used to run drumming circles, dance performances, yoga and other events in the park.

A spokesperson for the Parks Department said that the newly open space where the comfort station once stood could be used for future community events.

Cops conducted a large drug sweep on the park last year, about two months after de Blasio’s cleanup vow.  But Keith Owens, a Tompkinsville resident, said that police lately “have become more passive.”

An NYPD spokesperson said plainclothes officers do surveillance operations and enforcement in the park regularly. In addition, Neighborhood Coordination Officers patrol the park on all tours and “staffing is adjusted based on real time conditions,” the spokesperson said.

The latest figures from CompStat show there 19 were arrests, including misdemeanors around the park this year, up from 17 in the same period for 2018.

Dennis, a 40-year-old Tompkinsville resident who was drinking a Colt 45 beer in the park on Saturday morning, told THE CITY that he wouldn’t want his own 2-year-old daughter to ever spend time there.

“I would never bring her here,” he said. “I’m an alcoholic, but there’s much worse that you see here every day.”

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