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BY ZACH WILLIAMS | ORIGNINALLY PUBLISHED FEB. 14, 2014 | Downtown residents may wait years until N.Y.P.D. can fulfill a two-year old promise to bring the police horses back to Tribeca.
Community efforts to restore a mounted unit to their former stables at 19 Varick St. faltered on Feb. 12 when an N.Y.P.D. representative said at least three more years will pass before the World Trade Center Command Center will be able to vacate the site for a new location. The department had indicated in 2011 that the relocation of the unit would last less than two years.
“As for the foreseeable future, we intend to remain at 19 Varick St.,” said Deputy Inspector Kevin Burke, who oversees the command center.
A presentation by Burke to the Community Board 1 Tribeca Committee Wednesday offered the first update on the issue since the department missed that initial deadline. Finances, traffic considerations and bureaucratic hurdles hinder efforts aimed at securing a permanent spot for the command center, he added
Some local residents oppose the current location of the command center because they say it could potentially increase the risk of a terrorist attack in the Tribeca area in addition to removing the horses from their historic stable. Opposition resulted in a 2011 C.B. 1 resolution protesting the move. However, tensions cooled that year after a letter to the board from then-Police Commissioner Ray Kelly stated that the horses would return after only an 18-month absence.
Though that deadline has passed, N.Y.P.D. will continue to honor Kelley’s intention, Burke told the committee.
“The new police commissioner intends to have the horses returned and (the site) converted back to its previous function. So as of right now as I stand before you that’s the ultimate goal,” Burke said.
The department will hire a real estate broker this spring to help find possible locations for the command center. Previous efforts focused on three locations: inside 4 World Trade Center, which recently opened, at West Broadway and Murray St., and on Rector St. None of the locations ultimately proved cost-effective and feasible, according to Burke.
Local residents meanwhile said the ongoing delay diminishes hopes that horses will ever return to the nearly century-old stable.
“We were disappointed when we were given so little notice in the first place and we were told it was temporary, but this is seeming quite permanent,” committee member Jeff Ehrlich told Burke.
The committee decided to write a letter to the department seeking fresh commitment to restoring the stable to its original use. Peter Braus, the committee’s chairperson, said after the meeting that the issue must be kept in perspective despite deteriorating “faith” that N.Y.P.D. will return the mounted unit to its former station.
“They are the police. They are doing a tough job. They have to police the World Trade Center, one of the prime terrorist targets in the world,” he said. “Our concerns are important, but the concerns of security at the World Trade Center are also important.”
Local residents attending the meeting said the absence of horses in Tribeca undermines public safety and diminishes a key source of interaction between the community and law enforcement. Horses previously stabled at Varick St. now reside at 36th St. and 12th Avenue.
Suellen Epstein, a Downtown resident, said in a phone interview that mounted units are needed to control the large political demonstrations common to the area. Her experience after the Sept. 11 attacks demonstrates how mounted police can effectively manage the “fears and frustrations” of residents as well, she said.
“They interact in a much more gentler way,” she said of police officers on horseback.
Burke said although there was no specific strategic reason for needing the horses to be stabled on Varick, the concerns of local residents were important in ultimately deciding the future location of the command center.
While the future use of 19 Varick St. remains to be decided, concerned residents said they will continue to remain engaged on the issue. Beyond reasons of public safety, police horses are an important facet to life in Lower Manhattan, say residents.
“They bring joy to the neighborhood,” Epstein said.