Crazy Ideas Are How Good Things Happen

“If you have a good idea, don’t give up,” says Ann Buttenwieser, president of the Neptune Foundation. She would know because, after 27 years of dreaming of creating a floating pool reminiscent of the floating bath houses of the 1900s, she finally saw her plan come true in summer 2007. Over the past few months, The Floating Pool Lady opened its water and beach to over 71,000 visitors from across New York, the United States and–amazingly–12 countries.

She first publicly proposed the idea of a floating pool to revitalize New York City’s dying waterfront in an opinion piece in 1980 in The New York Times. Several urban planning positions and 21 years later, Buttenwieser decided it was time to leave her current position and work on her dream. “It was a crazy idea, but that’s how good things happen.”

Building The Idea

After she began the Neptune Foundation, Buttenwieser sought funding for the creation of a pool and a location to dock it. The foundation’s goals were to open the waterfront to the people of New York, and to bring water recreation to underprivileged communities.

To convert a barge into a floating pool, the Neptune Foundation hired Jonathan Kirschenfeld Associates and C.R. Cushing & Company. In 2004, a decommissioned 80- by 260-foot cargo river barge was purchased in Morgan City, La., but the work was delayed for six months in 2005 by Hurricane Katrina. The work was finally completed in September 2006. After a 10-day voyage in October 2006, the barge was docked in New York Harbor, and the final outfitting began.

Finding A Home

In 2007, Marianna Koval, president of the Brooklyn Bridge Parks Conservancy, contacted Buttenwieser about hosting the floating pool at its upcoming park site. The 85-acre park is located along a mile-and-a-half stretch from north of Manhattan Bridge past the Brooklyn Bridge and Atlantic Avenue. Plans called for the floating pool to be docked where the East and Hudson Rivers converge in New York Harbor.

“We thought that having the floating pool would be a unique opportunity for people who don’t have access to water-based activities besides running in the hydrants during the sweltering summer heat,” says Koval. “We wanted to offer people that opportunity while also showing off the iconic waterfront with the New York City skyline.” The floating pool eventually was located directly opposite Ground Zero.

Logistics, Logistics, Logistics

American Leisure Corporation was chosen to handle the logistics of getting the pool operational as well as handling safety and programming issues. “They weren’t just looking for lifeguards, they were looking for someone who could program,” says Steve Kass, founder and CEO of American Leisure Corporation.

The company devised security, safety, evacuation, and crowd-management plans as well as plans for handling a vessel moored at a city-owned dock. It also handled the logistics of creating a beach out of a rundown parking lot.

“In terms of the physical plan, it wasn’t just the size; we had to deal with getting the facility approved from all the government agencies,” says Kass. “Usually we are only dealing with building and health departments, but since this was on the water, we also dealt with the Coast Guard, Army Corp of Engineers, Ports and Terminals Authority and Homeland Security.”

In addition to the myriad insurance and legal issues, there was also the looming issue of handling the large number of people who would come to the floating pool. Knowing that the pool would only be able to handle 174 people at a time, a rotation plan was conceived.

Everyone Gets A Turn

“We used a system of color-coded bracelets, and we had sessions that were an hour and a half each,” says Kass. The session bracelets were handed out as people came through a central checkpoint. Once the allotted hour-and-a-half swim time was up, the pool was cleared, and the next session was opened.

To keep people busy while they waited, a one-acre beach area complete with beach volleyball, sand soccer, rental umbrellas, games and concessions was created. Koval says, “The beach was created with 1,320 tons of sand brought from Jones Beach, a public beach on Long Island. It smelled of the sea and had lots of shells in it. This was the first time the public could be on this waterfront in 200 years.”

18-Hour Days

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