A former U.S. Army Nike Missile Base, which is now home to an art park in Livingston, received more than a $1 million facelift last month.
On Oct. 7, Essex County Executive Joseph N. DiVincenzo, Jr. announced the park was the recipient of $1.1 million in upgrades.
The improvements include the installation of sidewalks and curbing, drainage systems to address flooding issues along the western section of the roadway, the repair of stairways, making sure the artists’ studios and the main exhibit building are handicap accessible, creating a designated scenic overlook site that includes message boards that tell the history of the former missile base and park, updating directional, parking and building signage, updating the facades of the artists’ studios and creating a community garden that has some plots designed to allow people with disabilities the opportunity to garden.
“We’re happy to welcome the community to the newly renovated Art Park in Livingston,” said Ellen Hanauer, president of the Riker Hill Artists Association. “The improvements led by Essex County Executive Joe DiVincenzo have improved the facilities immensely and our visitors will have an easier time parking and walking the grounds to see works by our 30 artists.”
Hanauer told the Livingston News the old park was very sad looking and now it’s like a breath of fresh air. Also, they are likely going to do a second phase of work in the future.
Each of the buildings has been color coded and way finding signs have been placed throughout the park.
Several public meetings were held throughout 2018 to hear public opinion and ideas about improving the park. In August 2018, DiVincenzo addressed concerns raised about traffic safety on Beaufort Avenue, the road leading into the park. Trees and overgrown brush were cut back and removed to improve sight lines and the drainage system along Beaufort was upgraded to address flooding.
DiVincenzo had proposed to make improvements to Riker Hill Art Park in 2008, but the plan was met with opposition from residents and artists who rent space in the park.
“Essex County Riker Hill Art Park is a hidden gem in our historic Parks System and the upgrades have made the facility more user friendly and encourage the public to experience the natural beauty of the landscape and the creativity of the artists,” DiVincenzo said. “A great deal of thought and public participation went into setting the priorities for this project.”
The improvements were praised by elected officials.
“We stood here in December 2016 and the county executive promised changes would be made,” said Councilman Rudy Fernandez. “Today I want to thank him for fulfilling his promise.”
“This looks gorgeous and we appreciate all you have done for us,” Livingston Mayor Al Anthony said. “The county came through to make improvements and now the art park is better than before.”
The 42-acre park was an Army Nike Missile Base in the 1950s. Essex County purchased the property from the federal government in 1974 and converted the buildings that once housed army facilities into studio space for artists.