The Conservancy has unveiled its capstone project of its decades-long work in the north end of Central Park: restoring the beauty and charm of the area—as well as its ecosystem—while creating a new pool and rink at the Harlem Meer. This ambitious undertaking, which is expected to break ground in spring 2021 and be completed in 2024, will be the largest project in the Conservancy’s history.
The beautiful new recreational facility will be more open and accessible, and for the first time will be open year-round to support expanded programming opportunities. The facility will be integrated into the landscape and re-establish long-severed connections to one of the Park’s most picturesque areas.
The history of restoring the Park’s north end
Before the Conservancy started its work to restore Central Park in 1980, the Park had deteriorated to the point of near destruction. The Harlem Meer—a glimmering, man-made lake in the northeast corner of the Park—was fenced in and filled with trash. Its shoreline, once lush and idyllic, was replaced with a concrete edge—and the boathouse that stood there was burned out and crumbling. In the North Woods, the Loch was filled with decades of accumulated sediments, and the area’s playgrounds were in terrible shape.
During the past 40 years, the Conservancy has returned the north end to its original intent—an oasis that transports visitors away from bustling urban life. We restored the Harlem Meer, which now serves as a popular recreational area for neighboring communities. We restored the Loch and Ravine, diversifying the vegetation and adding rustic trails. We also rebuilt playgrounds and better integrated them into the landscape.
This is the final piece of the transformation of Central Park’s north end into the vibrant resource it was meant to be.
The work ahead
For more than 60 years, Harlem Meer Center (formerly Lasker Rink and Pool) has acted as a physical and visual barrier in the north end. The building severed the Ravine landscape and Loch watercourse from the Harlem Meer. Water running from the Loch into the Meer was redirected through a culvert (a tunnel that carries water around Lasker beneath the ground), which has resulted in regular flooding throughout the years.
The Center’s aging structure—long plagued by systemic problems—is beyond repair.
The Conservancy is investing in a comprehensive reimagining of the site. The new design was created by the Conservancy’s design office, led by Chief Landscape Architect Christopher J. Nolan, FASLA, with the architectural team of Susan T. Rodriguez Architecture|Design in collaboration with Mitchell Giurgola. It includes:
- Building the indoor space of the new facility into the slope on the eastern side of the site, with a green roof overlooking the area
- Better integrating the facility into the surrounding landscape, allowing visitors to move more easily across the north end of the Park between the North Woods and the Harlem Meer
- Providing a new swimming pool and a new outdoor splash pad, which will be available for visitors before and after the public pool season
- Installing a seasonal ice rink for skating and hockey
- Constructing a boardwalk in the Meer that converts to a skating ribbon in winter, accessed from an open-air pavilion on the shoreline, expanding nature-based recreation
- Re-creating the watercourse that historically existed between Huddlestone Arch and the Meer
This project has a budget of $150 million, which includes a $40 million maintenance and capital repair fund, to ensure that the new facility continues to serve the public at the highest standard. The City of New York has allocated $50 million to the project, and the Conservancy has committed to raising $100 million and overseeing the design and construction.
For more details on the design and the work ahead, see our restoration page.
Engaging the community
As our team has been developing this design over the past year, we have been deeply engaged with the communities closest to the north end. Their input has been invaluable, and we have worked hard to incorporate their feedback about the need for the facility to be open year-round among other things.
A new menu of recreational activities and programs—such as boating, fishing, nature walks, and wildlife observation—will be introduced, and the facility will be available to the surrounding communities more throughout the year.
The Conservancy is continuing to present the design at a series of community board meetings in surrounding neighborhoods.
Not only will this project elevate the north end of the Park to spectacular heights, but it will provide New Yorkers with diverse activities and programming. We’re excited to see how the reimagined site will serve the people of this City.
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