As I close in on completion of two decades of work as a critic, I feel compelled to weigh in on what is surely destined to be one of the great New York City engineering projects of our generation. When last Memorial Day weekend got under way, it seemed that every local politician emerged to join the mayor for the dedication and Grand Opening of the first restored section of Rockaway’s once Sandy-destroyed boardwalk. Glorious as this new designer stone structure turned out to be, perhaps it could be more properly titled an Ocean Promenade than a boardwalk. I’m not one known for being speechless, but that opening afternoon when an NBC-TV reporter confronted me with camera and microphone for my opinion on this grand construction I simply blurted out, “It’s a treasure!” These months that followed have only served to confirm that first impression. One can safely say this gorgeous new boardwalk, with its gleaming handrails and approach ramps, deserves its growing reputation, both in New York and beyond, as an important recreational destination. It is eye-poppingly spacious, attractively designed and, most importantly, a work of structural solidity, which combined with expanded beaches, sand dunes and beach grass installations, should be well-prepared to challenge the roaring sea whenever necessary. Anyone who longs for the splinters and nails of rotting wooden boards after this, may be too much a captive of nostalgia. I invited two talented friends to visit this new wonder. One is a retired Mason from upstate New York with long experience in stone work. The other is a longtime building contractor from Australia. Both agreed this structure is a stunning masterpiece of construction.
As a frequent bike rider on the new surface, I have watched related developments with interest. At first I worried about the fact that the installed lighting fixtures were creating alternating areas of light and darkness that would produce evening dangers for the visually handicapped, as well as possible nighttime security issues. Happily, that problem was recently corrected with nearly all the light poles being topped with new, much brighter light fixtures that even seem specially designed to keep off those pesky seagulls. I had also been concerned that the beautiful deck of the promenade might become an abused surface with food and drink spills, chewing gum, or even doggy deposits from careless pet owners. Once again it’s been Parks Department to-the-rescue as I began to see a special cleaning truck with power-wash equipment slowly moving along the deck and inspecting for any area needing a quick clean-up. That suggests the city is committed to maintaining this “treasure” in the way it deserves. (One additional consideration should be making sure that the sand that accumulates where beach pathways meet the deck is swept away periodically so it does not become an eyesore or hazard.)
Our community is also fortunate that there are numerous lucky police officers assigned this “plum” detail who are widely in evidence, patrolling both on foot and bicycles. Fine concession stands in three locations offer a variety of tasty food and drink. To add to the fun, several nights a week these venues feature live entertainment from such talented bands as Rockaway’s own Funky Squid, which recently had the Friday night crowds cheering at the 106th St. location. The future is looking bright, and one can only imagine the positive economic benefits these developments will mean for the area as we move toward the scheduled completion of the entire project during the next two years. As I look back on the terrors of Hurricane Sandy three years ago, perhaps that old saying is true after all: “IT’S AN ILL WIND THAT BLOWS NOBODY GOOD!”