The $6.8 million project is expected to begin construction later this fall, with an anticipated opening date in fall 2018.
“This project has taken quite some time for us to pull together,” said Queens Parks Commissioner Dorothy Lewandowski. “We worked with the community, who were there through thick and thin.”
The park will soon feature a regulation-sized synthetic turf soccer pitch and two synthetic turf softball fields. A 24-foot chain link fence will separate the two.
Other amenities include drinking fountains and misting stations, new comfort stations, recreational seating and bleachers, lighting and additional greenery.
Lewandowski said the site will also have a storm management system that stores rainwater.
“What we’re trying to do across the city, working with the Department of Environmental Protection, is have less water go into the sewer system,” she said.
Principe Park, formerly called Maurice Park, first received funding for renovations from Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley in 2014. The fields have not had a major upgrade since the 1980s, she said.
“The fields were not renovated properly back then with the drainage that they needed,” Crowley said. “Over the years, these ball fields took quite a beating. For far too long, constituents have been complaining about the constant flooding, leaving the fields unable to be played on.”
The project went through a “very thorough and collaborative process,” Crowley said, including multiple community meetings where soccer and baseball interests clashed. But together, they agreed on a design that incorporates both sports.
“Soccer is getting more and more popular each year,” Crowley said. “We all know that soccer fields in Community Board 5 are few and far between.”
Timon Kalpaxis, the youth director of Middle Village soccer club Blau Weis Gottschee, called the renovations “a great achievement,” particularly for accommodating the growing sport of soccer.
“More American-born children are growing up with the sport, and it has created a tough situation for the whole community,” he said. “The legacy parks never really had allowed for soccer. Understandably, you don’t want to displace other things.”
He called the collaboration with the baseball community and the end result “a home run.”
“It’s a very difficult solution to achieve, but I think they did it quite intelligently,” Kalpaxis said.
In previous meetings, residents expressed fear for the safety of youth playing on the different fields. Kalpaxis said the fence between the fields should keep balls flying on to the soccer pitch a minimum.
Kalpaxis was especially excited about having another soccer field for his young players. Right now, he said, the organization rents out facilities, such as the Grover Cleveland athletic field, the Franklin K. Lane field and Aviator Field in Brooklyn.
“It costs the club an awful lot of money,” he said. “Our program is ever expanding, we’re just running out of space.
“When you put the kids up there and they see a first-class field, you just see them light up,” Kalpaxis added. “The first day, they’re out there all with their cameras taking pictures. It’s tremendous.”
Community Board 5 member Michael LoCascio has run local CYO sports programs for more than three decades. He’s seen the fields deteriorate into the conditions they’re in today.
“This is a great day for the youth of our community,” LoCascio said.
The project had strong support from Community Board 5. Board chair Vincent Arcuri called it a “fantastic design and reuse of this field.”
He also said it’s appropriate that it’s named after former CB5 chair Frank Principe, who lived across the street from the park in a house that his family built.
“I know that both Frank Principe and James Maurice are looking down on us, smiling, and saying ‘finally,’” Crowley said.