No matter the weather or time of year, crowds gather on a daily and nightly basis at Bowne Park in Flushing, where the game is bocce ball and everyone plays.
“Sometimes you can wait an hour to play,” said Sime Stulic, who has played at the park for more years than he can remember. “We have been asking for a long time for a second [bocce] court.”
Now Stulic and his fellow players are getting that second court — and a lot more.
Community Board 7 (CB7) voted unanimously on February 13 in favor of renovating the park and adding another bocce ball court. Marilyn Bitterman, district manager of CB7, said this is something the community wanted, and construction is set to begin this fall.
“We will be replacing benches, picnic tables and adding tables and places to sit,” she said. “Really, an entirely new plaza will be put in, and the existing court will be renovated.”
Bocce players, who have been advocating for improvements to the park for a number of years, couldn’t be happier to hear the news. Peter Salamon, a resident in the neighborhood for over 30 years, said people come from all over Queens to play in this park.
“In the springtime, we have hundreds of people here,” he said. “Even people in Whitestone, where [the city] just built a new court, come here.”
Salamon went on to say that the surrounding community appreciates and welcomes the bocce players. He believes that having such a strong presence in the park deters criminal activity and makes the entire neighborhood safer.
“Years ago, you would never walk through this park at night because it was filled with bad activity,” he said. “People know that we will call the police if we see something. The community appreciates us because we keep the bad elements out.”
The bocce players also have a hand in keeping the park clean. In the early morning hours, Salamon can be found sweeping the grounds around the bocce court and picking up any trash lying around. He even tried to plant a few trees in the park, but the city cut them down because he didn’t have the appropriate permit.
“We come and we take care of this park, not the city. We buy our own equipment and even the special sand for the court,” he said. “We don’t ask for anything.”
The park’s new amenities come with a $500,000 price tag.
Councilmember Dan Halloran, while very happy the park is getting a renovation, wasn’t thrilled with the cost.
“An extra bocce court will be a good thing for Bowne Park, and I’m proud to have helped provide one [through funding],” he said. “But nothing comes cheap through city government. I’m pressing for Parks to make this happen as affordably as possible. I’ve asked the department to account for all discretionary funding over the last 10 years, and I am looking at the costs of Parks construction, including the Little Bay Park overruns.”