Pumpkin festival held at long-awaited Roberto Clemente Plaza

Ruby Rodriguez paints the face of 4-year-old Jachelle Coburn at the South Bronx Pumpkin Festival in The Hub on Oct. 28. Photo by Emma Davis

 

Roberto Clemente Plaza was decked out in pumpkins, apples and hay bales for its debut Sunday. Even the barriers blocking off the fountain—the only sign of the Mott Haven plaza’s years of construction delays—were a festive orange, as if chosen for the morning’s Halloween event.

The newly renovated plaza in the Hub was the site of the Third Avenue Business Improvement District’s South Bronx Pumpkin Festival, an annual pumpkin giveaway that includes free activities for children. The fall festival was the first official gathering at the Hub since it opened to the public in late September.

In addition to the drawing supplies and pumpkins from Trinity Farm provided at each of the plaza’s colorful folding tables, Ruby Rodriguez, 61, offered face-painting for attendees of all ages. Rodriguez wore a blue wig and pink tutu for the occasion and greeted passersby in both English and Spanish.

“I can’t wait for the kids to come,” said Rodriguez at the start of the festival, dipping a brush into her ice cube tray full of paints. “I’m ready.”

Only a handful of families braved the blustery weather, however. Clouds lingered after Saturday’s Nor’easter, and Cate Evans, program director for the BID, blamed the “miserable” day and competing Halloween events throughout the city for the low turnout.

“We were expecting a little more sun,” said Evans, who handed out cider, temporary tattoos, and plastic fangs to the participants. Still, she added, “it’s a good little introductory thing” for the plaza.

Jayla Acosta, 11, visited the festival with her sister, mother, and grandmother. Jayla said she was drawn to “all the free stuff and the coloring” as they walked by.

“We have a lot [of pumpkins] at home, but I’ll probably take like one more,” she explained as she spelled out ‘Happy Halloween’ in red crayon at one of the plaza’s tables.

The festival’s attendees colored rather than carved their jack o’lanterns because of the safety issues with knives, Evans said.

The Hub was once the busiest place in the city after Times Square, according to a Small Business Services report.Mott Haven residents have grown frustrated as plans to redevelop the plaza have stalled numerous times over the years. As recently as last August, residents were joined by elected officials in protesting the delays, laying the blame squarely on the mayor’s office.

A spokesman for the Department of Design and Construction (DDC) addressed the plaza’s long-overdue opening nearly more than a decade in the making, in an emailed statement to the Herald.

“We’re very happy to get this done and we really hope that people like it,” wrote Ian Michaels, executive director of public information for the agency. “The contractor [Trocom] went bankrupt in the middle of the project, but now that the Plaza is open it can be a central meeting and recreation space, and can even host performances.”

Michael Brady, executive director of the Third Avenue BID, has criticized the department’s handling of the Hub remodel. Brady previously said that the BID lost a total of $22,000 in deposits when yet more construction delays caused the postponement of multiple programs at the plaza.

Brady mentioned several ongoing repair projects that have been held up, such as the closed fountain and the ramps on nearby curbs that send wheelchair users into traffic.

Nonetheless, Brady and Evans are pleased that the space is finally operational. The Third Avenue BID will hold a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the plaza in November.