It should have been a banner week for Open Space Alliance Executive Director Stephanie Thayer.
The popular summer concert series, “Pool Parties,” opened Sunday afternoon at the East River State Park after months of negotiations between OSA and state officials. Two film screening series, L Magazine’s Summer Screens and Moviehouse, opened in McCarren and Sternberg Parks, respectively. And last Monday, city officials celebrated the opening of Bushwick Inlet Park with a groundbreaking ceremony, while the Parks Department opened Transmitter Park in Greenpoint temporarily over the past weekend.
Yet an internal debate has been brewing for some time regarding the future of the organization’s structure at a time when parks budgets are getting slashed and several open space projects along the waterfront remain stalled.
At an OSA Community Committee meeting at the Green Oaks Citizens Club (179 Green Street) in Greenpoint this week, several members questioned OSA’s recent advocacy for parks projects near the site of local development projects. Much of their confusion stems from the dual roles that Thayer inhabits as both a city Parks Department administrator and as OSA’s executive director.
“I feel you have done a good job with these projects, but how do we know when you are OSA Stephanie speaking on an issue or Mayor’s Office Stephanie speaking on an issue?” said Laura Hofmann, a member of the OSA Community Committee.
Thayer responded by explaining the different aspects of her unique position, which is to act as a liaison between the Parks Department and Williamsburg residents interested in parks issues.
OSA was founded three years ago when several business and community leaders, led by Brooklyn Brewery’s Steve Hindy and architect Joe Vance, sought to pursue a way to formally advocate for open space along the waterfront following the 2005 Greenpoint⁄Williamsburg Rezoning Agreement.
Hindy and other OSA board members based their model in North Brooklyn on the Prospect Park Conservancy and other public−private advocacy organizations in the city that raise money privately to maintain city parks, supplementing the Parks Department’s budget.
Thayer, a political campaign operative with Howard Dean in 2004 and a Williamsburg resident, was brought in to lead the new organization. Within the past year, the position was folded into the Parks Department, making Thayer an official city employee, receiving 51 percent of her income from the city and 49 percent from OSA.
It has been a balance that she has sometimes found difficult to maintain.
“I see the position as a bridge between what the community wants and how the board should go about fundraising and also act as a bridge between the city government and the community,” said Thayer.
Susan Albrecht, co−chair of Neighbors Allied for Good Growth, agrees. Albrecht and other NAG members have been instrumental in helping OSA form its community committee in order to maintain and create parks spaces throughout North Brooklyn. Albrecht believes the committee must be an allocation and advocacy force in order to be effective.
“OSA cares about maximizing our open space in North Brooklyn and engaging people who give privately through OSA, but we must also engage our political leadership, so that they fulfill the promises that were made to us in the rezoning,” said Albrecht.
NAG board member and OSA Community Committee member Christine Holowacz understands some of the criticism that Hofmann and other residents have raised. She believes Thayer has done an exemplary job representing the community’s interests to parks officials but that advocacy work must originate from OSA’s community committee itself.
“Stephanie can’t be the advocate. It’s not Stephanie who is going to do this,” she said. “I see Stephanie more as a liaison position between parks and community so information won’t get lost in translation and every parks committee will have the right answer.”
The community committee will meet in August and September to design its operating procedures, and Thayer hopes to continue to pressure city officials behind the scenes to continue parks construction projects throughout the neighborhood.
This is the first in a three−part series about the Open Space Alliance. Check back next week for Part Two, which will focus on the organization’s operations, followed by Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s role in creating open space in North Brooklyn.
©2009 Community News Group
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