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

By working together around the clock, the Neptune Foundation, Brooklyn Bridge Park Conservancy, American Leisure, Empire State Development Corporation, and with pro bono legal consulting from Cleary Gottlieb, these groups opened the pool and beach on July 4, 2007.

From July 4 to Labor Day, the pool was open from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily, and the beach was open 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. The new facility was easily accessible via subway and bus through the city transit system, and a shuttle bus transported people from the nearest subway stop to the beach and pool area.

The floating pool soon became known as The Floating Pool Lady in honor of Buttenwieser. Both the pool and adjoining beach area offered programmed activities, including community recreation and camp programs, senior aqua-aerobics and soccer, as well as plenty of organized games and contests.

Success Measured By A Smile

On July 7, Buttenwieser visited the pool again. “The pool was jammed and people were in line, and I looked at how happy people were and I just cried,” she says. “I’d spent all this time raising the money and going through the hoops and working on the physical structure. But I never really realized what it would be like with people in it, and that was the most incredible moment. That was what it was all about. People were happy and having fun.”

To share the resource, The Floating Pool Lady will be transferred to New York City Department of Parks and Recreation’s Barretto Point Park in the Bronx for the 2008 summer season. However, since the pool and beach were such a success, park planners are considering options for a pool at the future site of Brooklyn Bridge Park development.

Communities interested in building a floating pool are advised to:

· Raise awareness and funding by proactively communicating with local media, parks and conservancy groups.

· Create a core team responsible for overseeing the logistical, legal and insurance details.

· Find a location that is readily accessible via mass transit.

· Know all the rules for compliance with the selected waterfront site.

· Know who the users are going to be.

· Have a maintenance and service system in place for the swimming pool and vessel.

· Be sure of utilities, water, power and sewage concerns.

· Be prepared to deal with large crowds.

In areas where accessing the waterfront is a hazard, or the waterfront needs revitalization, a floating pool might just be a sensible solution generated from a crazy idea.

Tammy York is the president of LandShark Communications LLC in Greater Cincinnati. She left her state public-relations position to pursue her passions of outdoor recreation and marketing. Her upcoming book, 60 Hikes Within 60 Miles of Cincinnati, is due out in spring 2009. You can reach her at