NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ—After being closed for over a year, Feaster Park’s fences have come down, and the five-acre park in the heart of the city is once again open to the public.
Officials have announced a grand opening celebration for Thursday, September 14 beginning at 1pm, but locals are already exploring the park and its amenities.
The ribbon-cutting festivities are said to include hot dogs, popcorn, cotton candy, games, and music, and everyone is welcome.
Among the improvements are new playground areas, restrooms, basketball courts, and a water feature, in addition to a community garden and a small amphitheater.
The project has been in the works for years and was also decidedly behind schedule, as evidenced by a page on the city website stating that “Feaster Park is currently under an extensive renovation to be completed in 2022.”
“The redesign of Feaster Park and Pittman Park are part of the City’s strategic plan to renew and re-energize its parks system, using our New Brunswick Parks Action Plan as a guide, created in partnership with experts at Rutgers University and the Trust for Public Land,” reads another city webpage, which also includes slides from a February 2019 workshop.
Charles Bergman, Chairman of the city’s Parks & Gardens Commission, said the renovations to the park were “a long time coming” and “very exciting” on September 12.
The total cost of the project is estimated to be $4 million, split between improvements to Feaster and another smaller park located just across Handy Street: Pittman Park.
However, up to $1.5 million of the costs can be reimbursed with a grant from Middlesex County’s government, awarded by the Board of County Commissioners on March 16.
“[The city] approached the county for assistance with recreational improvements,” said Rick Lear, then-Director of Middlesex County’s parks department, at the time.
A new plaza at Handy Street and Paul Robeson Boulevard will be dedicated to Paul Robeson, the legendary activist, athlete, performer, and scholar for whom Commercial Avenue was re-named in 2019.
The public school adjacent to the park was also re-named for Robeson in 1982. Previously, it was known as Nathan Hale Elementary School.
A Robeson statue has been commissioned for the plaza, with the City Council approving $150,000 to sculptors at the Chicago-based Koh-Varilla Guild, lnc. on January 18. That statue is “scheduled to be unveiled next year,” according to TapInto New Brunswick.
Robeson isn’t the only person whose memory will be honored in this city park, itself named for Joseph J. Feaster, a prolific elected official from the neighborhood.
A resident of Throop Avenue, Feaster was first elected Alderman of the Second Ward of New Brunswick in 1906, back when the city was governed by a “Common Council” consisting of thirteen members.
Feaster represented his neighborhood until the city changed to a new form of government in 1915. After narrowly losing his bid for one of the five seats on the new City Commission, the victorious Commissioners swiftly hired him to the formerly-elected position of “Recorder.”
Two years later, Feaster was elected to represent the entire city on the Commission, and re-elected four more times until he died in office on New Year’s Day 1935.
It is hoped that the new iteration of Feaster’s park will not suffer from the same problems that plagued the last version. As we have reported, the area had been a hot spot for violent crime in recent years.
Charlie is the founder and editor of New Brunswick Today, and the winner of the Awbrey Award for Community-Oriented Local Journalism. He is a proud Rutgers University journalism graduate, a community organizer, and a former independent candidate for mayor of New Brunswick.