This year’s Battery Park City Block Party (slated for Sunday, September 18, on the Esplanade Plaza, overlooking North Cove Marina) might be the last, as the community leaders who founded the event prepare to hand responsibility to successors who have yet to come forward, or else let the celebration become part of the community’s history.
This year, the block party will honor two people who have helped to make Battery Park City what it is: 25-year resident Robin Forst, and Eric “T” Fleisher, who directed horticulture in the community’s award-winning parks for decades, before stepping down earlier this year.
Ms. Forst has been a civic booster and champion for Battery Park City since the early 1990s. She has served in a succession of leadership posts, from the Parent-Teacher Association at P.S. 234, the chairing the Battery Park City Committee of Community Board 1 (CB1), to senior staff positions in the City Council, at the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, and the Battery Park City Authority. She has recently come full circle by rejoining CB1 as a public member, after a decade-plus absence.
This year’s block party will also confer a Corporate Service Award on Milford Management, Albanese, and the staff of Gateway Plaza, for all that they do to improve the lives of residents.
The block party is an annual tradition that began 15 years ago, in the spring of 2002. Shortly after the last fires had been extinguished in the ruins of the World Trade Center, a group of Battery Park City residents began to conspire about how to reunite a community that had only begun to coalesce anew in the wake of a diaspora that had begun the previous September.
“We felt that it was time to bring our neighbors together to celebrate the rebirth of our community and support the struggling businesses in the aftermath of September 11th,” recalls Gateway resident Rosalie Joseph, who helped bring the group together. “We wanted to demonstrate and honor our unshakeable spirit, the strength we had shown as a neighborhood, the unity that had emerged through our commitment to Battery Park City.”
“This was a time when Facebook didn’t exist and communities had to be built one person at a time,” recalls Anthony Notaro, another member of the group, who has since become chair of Community Board 1. “Rosalie created something that people wanted to be a part of.”
The idea that Ms. Joseph and Mr. Notaro and their fellow local boosters hatched was to hold a block party. “At that time the feeling of community was palpable and living here felt like we lived in a small town,” remembers Ms. Joseph. “So during the planning, we coined the phrase, ‘Battery Park City: the best small town in the Big Apple.’ That is exactly what living here felt like.”
“My strongest memory was our first planning session,” recalls Mr. Notaro. “Rosalie had organized a meeting at the Embassy Suites Hotel, now the Conrad, which was a great sponsor at that time. We had a meeting room, and it must have been filled with two dozen people eager to help, or maybe just connect with neighbors. Being the first time, there was lots to do and lots of ideas. Amazingly, it all worked out and the event was a big success.”
Ms. Joseph recalls that, “what was unique about our event was that all our vendors were Battery Park City or Downtown businesses and organizations. The talent was local. The food was only from our establishments, local companies. And the Battery Park City Authority supported us. It was truly a celebration of all that makes this neighborhood so great.”
Looking back, she says, “my favorite memory is when, at the end of the first block party, we stood on the stage singing our closing traditional sing along of ‘Downtown’ and ‘New York, New York.’ I looked out at all my neighbors, looking happy once again, celebrating after experiencing a long and very challenging year. And as we sang the lyrics to ‘Downtown,’ many of us onstage and in the audience in front of us had tears in our eyes. Our community was back and stronger than ever.”
The first Battery Park City Block Party was so successful that it became an annual event. A decade later, Ms. Joseph and Mr. Notaro decided that the time was right to pass the torch to a new generation of community leaders. But none rose to the challenge, so they soldiered on for another five years. “I know we ‘retired’ after the tenth block party, but we did that believing that someone else might want to take on the job,” Ms. Joseph reflects. “We wanted the event to continue and thought new talent would re-invent it with new ideas. That didn’t happen. We didn’t want to see it die at ten years, so we kept it alive from 2012 through this year. But now, we feel our mission has been completed.”
She adds that, “it’s now a very different Battery Park City. Equally as wonderful, but different. Change happens. We have done all we can to create an event that reflects the community we know. Perhaps someone else will want to step up to make an event reflecting the new Battery Park City. And if so, we would support them and help them any way we can. But if that is not the case, this will be the last block party and we are okay with that. Fifteen years is a good run! Things sometimes have to end.”
“So much has changed since we started,” Mr. Notaro reflects. “And if this is to continue, it needs to take on a new mission, a new look and a new leadership. The neighborhood deserves it, but it really is up to someone, like Rosalie, who says ‘I can do that.'”
This year’s block party is being produced by a Steering Committee, which includes Joan Cappellano, Tammy Meltzer, Paula Galloway, Jeff Galloway, Deborah Di Iorio, Linda Velez, Michael Kaufman, Greer Griffith, Tom Goodkind, Bob Townley, Martha Gallo, Craig Hall, Janet Berka, Susan McNamara, Maria Leo, Alton Bowers, Cindy Pollack, Marti Cohen-Wolf, Jane Abrams, Marlene Jupiter, Sudhir Jane, Gloria Almamuy, Vicki Winters, Ken Ard, Sandy DeMarco, Angela Benfield, Patricia White-Watson, and Mary Reynolds. They have been assisted by Julianne De Marco and Fuschia Corbin, who have run the event’s teen section for many years.
Anyone interested in discussing taking on a leadership role in a future Battery Park City Block Party is urged to contact Ms. Joseph via email at Info@BPCBlockParty.com.