YONKERS — The city on Tuesday marked the latest milestone in its effort to transform a downtown parking lot into a scenic park.
Workers recently completed the first of two phases in the city's $19 million Saw Mill River "daylighting" project, which involved diverting part of the river's underground flow into a manmade stream running through Larkin Plaza.
A noon ceremony hosted by Mayor Phil Amicone offered hundreds of residents their first glimpse of the newly uncovered and rechanneled waters.
The next phase, to be completed this spring, will bring trees, flower beds and other landscaping to riverbanks.
City officials said the space will host outdoor ecology workshops, musical performances and other programming as well as feature a family reading area and wireless Internet.
"It is a terrific environmental park project that everyone is going to be able to enjoy for generations to come," Amicone said.
In the 1920s, due to localized flooding and unsanitary conditions, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers channeled the river into a subterranean flume and built a parking lot over it.
Calling the project "one of the most significant environmental initiatives" in the state, Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino touted the park-to-be as a future engine for economic growth and job creation.
"This project has un-paved — if you will — the way for the construction of new retail, entertainment, residential housing, office space, a hotel, parking, etc.," he said. "That's exciting for Yonkers and all of Westchester County."
The park's environmental elements include street lights with energy-saving light-emitting diodes, 30-by-30-foot nets that are expected to capture tons of plastic bottles in the Saw Mill River before they enter the Hudson River, and fish ladders that will allow animals like American eels access to the exposed portion of the river.
Workers broke ground in December 2010. Since then, they have pumped out 21 million gallons of groundwater, erected 120 tons worth of stone walls, and installed two miles of underground piping, among other efforts, said Jim Pinto, Yonkers' director of downtown and waterfront development.
Soon, "the park will be completed and the quality of life in the downtown will definitely be improved," Pinto said Tuesday. "Our job down here is really giving people a reason to come to downtown Yonkers — and this is going to be a great reason.