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Jessica Lappin, 39, the former Upper East Side City Councilmember and candidate for Manhattan borough president, was hired as president of the Alliance for Downtown New York in February.
She now runs the city’s largest business improvement district. It’s a busy time for the Alliance with the recent and pending openings around the World Trade Center, and the start of the summer season with Lower Manhattan Tuesdays, a new program aimed to drive more people Downtown.
We sat down with Lappin on May 28, the same day the Port Authority once again delayed a vote to guarantee financing to build 3 W.T.C.
Interview has been condensed and edited.
What’s your reaction to the Port’s decision not to vote on 3 World Trade Center?
We’re disappointed. Not getting into the nitty-gritty of the deal, but from at least what I’ve read in he papers, it’s a much better deal for the Port Authority. This concept that you are somehow diverting money from doing the Port Authority Bus Terminal is myth. They’re not putting money into the deal at 3. There’s nothing that prohibits them yesterday, today or tomorrow from putting money into the Port Authority Bus Terminal if they think that’s the right things to do.
What’s been the effect of the opening of the 9/11 Museum and the full opening of the memorial?
Certainly when you walk down Liberty St. or if you stroll through the memorial site, you can see the impact just in terms of the people who are there embracing and using it. It really has changed your sense of place and of feeling, I think in a very positive way. It’s been really nice to see the public using the space. You don’t have to think about it — you can just walk across — I think I made a point almost every day last week of doing the same.
Are you aware of the community concern about the Liberty St. crowds?
Two of our urban planners participated in the walk around [with community leaders to look at the problem] and I’ve spoken to Catherine [McVay Hughes, Community Board 1’s chairperson] about it just yesterday. We had a little brainstorming session internally here today.
There’s got to be a better way to direct the pedestrian flow. This isn’t going to be the way it is long-term — there will be other access points. In the short-term we’re open to the idea of expanding the sidewalk, opening other points of entry…working with the community board to come up with a good short- and medium-term solution.
How will Downtown be a different place in a year?
We talk about this literally every day because every six months, every month, there is some kind of big opening, happening, something pretty monumental. The scale is incredible. To have this $30 billion of public and private investment coming online over the next 19 months — it’s already started but it will continue. Last week it’s the museum, but in a few weeks we’ll have the Fulton transit hub, you’ve got Pier A in July, you’ve got the 250 retail shops next year and Calatrava [W.T.C. train center.]
Is the Alliance’s role is to get the information out there?
That’s the biggest thing, for us to continue to trumpet and shout from the rooftops — now that there are beautiful restaurants on rooftops. People are starting to say “oh wow what’s happening?’ That’s really game changing.
Part of our job is helping to manage the growth. There is always a little bit of growing pains. Part of our job is to be an advocate and a conduit to bring people together. To try and be the neutral party who can bring people together to address some of the issues that inevitably come up — whether it’s changes in foot traffic or tour buses or whatever the issues are that you hear at the community board or talking to landlords or others. We’re all facing the same wonderful issues that come with this kind of great growth.
Any surprises in the new job?
One of the really pleasant surprises was how many good places there are to eat. I am a little bit of a foodie. It’s been fun to kind of explore.
I’m not sure this is a surprise but there are a lot of spaces that I either hadn’t been in ever, like Pier A, or spaces like the New York Stock Exchange I just hadn’t been in in a long time and to kind of rediscover the gems that are here — that’s been a really wonderful part of the first three months.
What does the Alliance have planned for the summer?
Water St. Lower Manhattan Tuesdays. We are going to be doing some engaging, lively, fun programming that we hope that will appeal to both the population that is here working during the day, but also to the neighborhood. To really enliven places that are kind of dead pockets [like Water St.] where there could be great activity.
We’re still formulating it, although it’s going to start pretty soon. We are coalescing around a theme. We want to demonstrate how Water St. in particular really could be a much grander boulevard.