Queens Borough President announces $3 million for upgrades to Phil ‘Scooter’ Rizzuto Park in Richmond Hill

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Queens Borough President Donovan Richards is investing $3 million in capital funding to upgrade the outdated basketball and handball courts at Phil “Scooter” Rizzuto Park in Richmond Hill
Photo by Anthony Medina

Queens Borough President Donovan Richards announced last week that he has allocated $3 million to upgrade the dilapidated basketball and handball courts at Phil “Scooter” Rizzuto Park in South Richmond Hill.

Richards joined Richmond Hill residents and community leaders at the park on Friday, March 1, to make the announcement, which comes after years of advocacy from the neighborhood group Friends of Phil Rizzuto “Smokey” Park.

“Investing in our parks is much more than just about surfaces,” Richards said. “It’s about giving our families positive and productive places to enjoy, to bond to grow, to come together with their neighbors and enjoy the outdoors.”

The basketball and handball courts at Phil Rizzuto Park have fallen into a state of disrepair, with frequent park-goers saying they are concerned about the conditions.

The basketball court is cracked and has weeds growing through, making the surface uneven for players. The outline of court has been painted, only thanks to volunteers who worked with NYC Parks Department.

Richards says delivering a check and not just rhetoric is what communities need, especially for the residents of Richmond Hill who sought park space during the pandemic and fought to see their park become a safe community space.

“In communities like Richmond Hill, especially where we were hit hard, we know that this community utilizes this park heavily for those reasons. And we know open space is a premium here as well,” said Richards. “That’s why this allocation is the second largest allocation I’ve made so far project since I became borough president.

Richards has allocated $20 million for parks this fiscal year.

Aleena Knight, the founder of Friends of Phil Rizzuto Park, stands at the podium and shares thanks with the Queens Borough President, civic leaders, elected officials and fellow advocates who continue to make the Richmond Hill Park accessible to all via upgrades. Photo by Anthony Medina

Advocacy for Phil Rizzuto Park improvements began from the ground up.

Aleena and Bill Knight say they started the Friends of Phil Rizzuto Park after hearing that their neighbors were taking their children to a basketball court outside of the area to play. The couple also discovered that the park was being used predominantly for parties and criminal activity.

The pair, given their findings, were able to get the backing of Richmond Hill residents to call for its improvement. The goal remains to continue working with NYC Parks to maintain the space and make it family-friendly.

“The upgrade of the courts represents another step in our organization’s long-term objective of improving the quality of facilities, service, and programs for the park patrons,” said Aleena. “We will continue to work with the Parks Department and our elected officials advocating for improvement to our bathrooms, the benches around over and the creation of a three-lane runners track around the field.”

The basketball upgrades also had the support of a local school sports team. Varsity softball players as part of the Richmond Hill High School Lions also called for the revamp and came out in support of the $3 million announcement.

A school administrator with the team said the softball team alternates between the turf field and the basketball court area for practice.

Heavy rain, however, often floods their practice space and students are often forced to carry the water out with buckets. NYC Parks representatives promised to address the flooding in 21 days from Friday, Mar. 1.

Richards won praise from attendees.

Jacqueline Langsam, the Queens Parks Commissioner, thanked Richards for investing in parks.

“Phil Rizzuto Park with its numerous recreational elements is not only this community’s backyard, but it’s also their flagship Park worthy of features and amenities that promote this status,” said Langsam. “The borough president’s generous $3 million allocation will renovate the handball and basketball courts in this park, providing a much-improved resource for this community.”

Richards, along with the Friends of Phil Rizzuto Park, was also thanked by Community Board 9 Chair Shery Algredo and Assemblymember David Weprin.

The Parks Department has yet to provide a timeline as to when the upgrades will begin.