Every dog has its day in ‘Mutt Haven’

Three bulldogs look out at the neighbors from “Mutt Haven,” a new dog park near the Port Morris waterfront. Photo: Emma Davis

Open since July, new park offers needed space for mans’ best friend

Mott Haven’s newest dog park is the result of an unlikely friendship between local boxer Benny “the Bee” Garcia and Somerset Partners owner Keith Rubenstein. The fighter’s puppy needed a place to play, and Rubenstein, a well-known developer who also sponsors Garcia’s matches, offered to help. In July, their pet project opened as “Mutt Haven,” a gravel-lined dog run behind the Bruckner Building on Third Avenue.

“[Mutt Haven] is not just a dog park. It’s a place for the community to really connect,” said Garcia, 30, who runs the park’s Instagram page and organizes its events for dog owners, including a recent “Yappy Hour.”

Somerset Partners, which has invested millions in market-rate housing along the Port Morris waterfront, spent $25,000 to transform the vacant lot next to its office space into a dog park. Intern Sam Varshinsky led the project, and six local businesses purchased advertising banners at $200 each to contribute to upkeep. 

Mutt Haven’s tree-lined enclosure has benches, a hose, and a red fire hydrant and is open seven days a week. 

Prior to its construction, the neighborhood’s nearest dog run was at St. Mary’s Park. Over 300 community members signed a 2016 petition arguing that the St. Mary’s dog park looked like “a dump.” Today, the space continues to be “in a sad state of disrepair,” according to Michael Brady, executive director of the Third Avenue Business Improvement District (BID).

Visitors to the new park, which the Third Avenue BID maintains, said they appreciate its cleanliness. Dog owner Alex Apotsos, 26, stops by Mutt Haven almost daily and praised the BID for doing a “fantastic job.” 

“I can’t thank them enough,” he said, as his brown and white rescue, Dynasty, played in the gravel nearby. 

Apotsos, a tenant of the Clock Tower on Lincoln Ave, is also thrilled to have a dog run closer to home. He and Dynasty used to venture as far as Randall’s Island for walks.

“[Mutt Haven] is very convenient,” said Apotsos. “It’s definitely made my life easier.”

But some of Mutt Haven’s neighbors have a bone to pick with the park.

Paul Fearon, 50, has lived opposite the Bruckner lot for 13 years and said it was attracting dog walkers long before Mutt Haven was created. While he’s glad their pets are now defecating in the park instead of his back garden, Fearon said they’re still disregarding other residents.

“One of them was complaining that people shouldn’t be able to walk through here if they don’t have a dog,” Fearon said. 

Additionally, Fearon views Mutt Haven as one of developers’ many attempts to increase property values in the neighborhood, which he said has experienced “unabashed gentrification.”

“They’re not cleaning it up for the people. They’re cleaning it up so the landlords can get more rent,” he said. “They need to stop with this attitude that ‘We’ve made a bad area better for you.’”

Yet Rubenstein, who has two dogs, insists that he had a simple motive for building Mutt Haven.

“I just think it’s a nice thing,” he said.