By mid-September, Andrew Grosso's girls softball team is counting on two new places in Hoboken to practice underhand throws.
"We are forced right now to use any patch of grass we can find," said the coach and father of two.
Hoboken is moving forward on a project to complete a new recreation field on an uptown plot known as "1600 Park," located between the Willow and Park Avenue overpasses at 16th Street. The current design allows the space to be used as a full-sized, 120-yard soccer field or be divided into two small soccer fields, or two baseball (softball) fields.
The plans were unveiled at a community meeting at the Multi-Service Center Wednesday night where, despite the sweltering heat, about 25 residents came to review the drafts and speak with city officials. It was the second community gathering on the space after a majority of residents told officials at a January meeting that they would like to see it turned into a field for public recreation programs.
For Grosso and fellow Hoboken dad Tony Theodore, the new field will not just fulfill an urgent need for more open space in the city. Players of all ages will soon have an adequate place to practice their sports in the wake of the collapse of the Sinatra Drive soccer field in 2009.
"Do we need park space or do we need field space?" said Theodore, coach of Hoboken's traveling girls soccer team. "There's a difference."
Community Development Director Brandy Forbes said the city received $1.7 million in Green Acres funding to complete the design and construction of the field which will be done by September. While there is no set date, the city is beyond the terms of the grant and must provice status updates to assure the NJDEP of the progress.
But not all residents in attendance were pleased with the pace of the project.
Longtime resident Jim Kocis, a co-founder of the Hoboken Parks Organization, said he was disappointed that Wednesday's gathering was "not a concept meeting" to discuss options, but rather a presentation of a "fait accompli."
"My chief objection is I understand the urgency (for a field), but we need to do this carefully and slowly because it's going to be here for 100 years," he said.
Soon to be a father himself, Kocis said there should be more consideration for the field's geographic position on the Hoboken/Weehawken border and across from the Weehawken and Hoboken Coves. He also raised objections to a 4 to 6 foot retaining wall that will enclose the entire field, which he said would cut off the space from its surroundings.
Forbes said the retaining wall is necessary as part of the site's environmental remediation process to hold in a mandatory two-foot cap of fresh soil. The wall will also restrict the field to three access points to control pedestrian flow to safe exits.
The field will be closed at night to avoid vandalism, she added.
Having witnessed a verbal exchange between Kocis and Grosso during the meeting, Mayor Dawn Zimmer assured those in attendance that the city will be working to incorporate the new field with the surrounding area once it is complete.
One option, she said, would be to make use of the spaces beneath the overpasses and to advocate for the county to close down the portion of Park Avenue that runs adjacent to the field.
"The county right now is not open to closing down this road," she said.
Also in attendance at Wednesday's meeting was Council President Beth Mason, Human Services Director Leo Pellegrini, Transportation Director Ian Sacs, as well as members of the design team from engineering firm Remington & Vernick.
"This provides more of an opportunity for active recreation," said landscape architect Joseph Petrolongo who led the design team. "You're not bothering any residents. You're between the two viaducts and you have the beautiful waterfront."