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Lower Manhattan lost its powerful voice in Albany, and one of the neighborhood’s greatest boosters passed away.
Battery Park City lost its marina’s beloved commodore and the founder of its parks conservancy, as relations between residents and its all-powerful, state-appointed board hit new lows, renewing calls for a city takeover.
But 2015 also saw Downtown start to blossom as a retail destination and the new center of the city’s media industry, as a residential boom continued to transform the once-staid Financial District into the dynamic, 24-hour community of FiDi.
The South Street Seaport may be losing one of its tall ships, but residents finally won their long battle against a planned residential tower.
New attractions and amenities opened to locals and tourists, while the city took the first tentative steps to rescue residents from the nuisance of helicopter tours. After years of Downtown missing out on much-needed funding for storm resiliency following the devastation of Hurricane Sandy, the city finally committed substantial cash to an effort to protect all of Lower Manhattan from the next superstorm.
The opening of 1 World Trade Center and the reopening of a sidewalk blocked since 9/11 marked Downtown’s emergence from years of rebuilding and the start of a new era of growth and dynamism fueled by a surging population, a more diversified economy and the world-class transportation infrastructure coming online in the near future.
In our 2015 year-end issue, Downtown Express takes a look back at a year that will stand out as a new turning point in the long story of New York’s oldest neighborhood.
By far the biggest political news this year was the downfall of former Assembly Speaker and Downtown stalwart Sheldon Silver.
His January arrest on federal corruption charges sent shockwaves through his Lower Manhattan district, which had long benefited from Silver’s influence during his two decades as Speaker of the Assembly.
The case centered on kickbacks from two law firms. One scam traded asbestos-patient referrals for state research dollars, and in the other developers hired a Silver-affiliated law firm in exchange for help renewing tax credits. Silver maintained that it was all just friendly favors.
He was found guilty in November on all seven counts, ending a decades-long political career, including 20 years as one of the three most powerful men in the state.
“Today, Sheldon Silver got justice, and at long last, so did the people of New York,” said U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara shortly after the verdict was announced.
“It’s hard for Downtown to think of him as anything but our local hero,” Tom Goodkind, a C.P.A. and Battery Park City resident, said after Silver’s conviction. “It’s almost like someone hit me in the gut.”
Sinking the Commodore
Commodore Michael Fortenbaugh was a fixture at Battery Park City’s North Cove Marina for 20 years. The longtime B.P.C. resident stayed after 9/11 and helped build up the marina, which he then ran for ten years until he was unceremoniously replaced last January.
A groundswell of community support to keep the commodore as the marina’s operator started well before his contact was up in late 2014, but the Battery Park City Authority — the state agency that runs the neighborhood — had different plans.
At a packed B.P.C.A. meeting in January, the board named Brookfield Office Properties and its partner Island Global Yachting as the marina’s operator, in the first of several unpopular decisions the authority would make this year.
High Schooler joins CB1
In 2015, for the first time, 16- and 17-year-olds were able to apply for a post some adults shy away from: serving on a community board.
Borough President Gale Brewer had long pushed for civic-minded teenagers to be a part of the boards, and in April she appointed Susan Wu, now a senior at Stuyvesant High School, to Community Board 1.
Wu serves on both the Battery Park City and Youth and Education committees.
“Joining Community Board 1 is the perfect opportunity for me to get involved,” Wu told Downtown Express in April. “I am not only going to learn more about the community I spend most of my time in, but also provide a new perspective, as a young adult, to better the community.”
In April, a driver trying to bypass traffic jumped onto the sidewalk during morning drop-off near Spruce Street School — striking a woman walking to work and sending mothers and children scattering. The driver then fled the scene.
The victim, Heather Hensl, a mother and physician assistant, was unable to walk without aid for weeks afterwards. And a month later, the culprit still at large, she told this paper in her first public comment that she feared the N.Y.P.D. would drop the case — which sparked renewed outrage, and action from the police.
About one week later, Tiffany Murdaugh was arrested and charged with three counts, including felony assault in the second degree. Murdaugh has pleaded not guilty and the case is ongoing.
1 WTC observation deck opens
Downtowners got a great new view of the neighborhood when the observation deck of One World Trade Center finally opened to the public in May.
The tower’s 100th-floor observation deck opened to block-long lines and sold about one million tickets in its first three months.
The new Downtown attraction offers breathtaking views and high-tech features, such as a time-lapse video in the elevator that shows how the city’s skyline has changed as it ascends to the top.
Liberty St. sidewalk reopens
In an opening almost as eagerly anticipated as One World Trade Center, and no less symbolic, the sidewalk on the north side of Liberty St. reopened for the first time since the 9/11 attacks 14 years ago.
For nearly a decade and a half, the sidewalk on the south side of the busy Downtown thoroughfare was a miserable crush — which was only made worse by the opening of 4 W.T.C. last year, because new security measures included concrete barriers on the southern sidewalk — so reopening of the other side came as welcome relief to residents.
Ghostbusters firehouse to get makeover
A new crew of Ghostbusters will hit the screen in 2016 for a remake of the 1984 comedy classic — but the iconic Tribeca fire station used in the original movie is set to close for a lengthy renovation.
The Ladder 8 company at 14 N. Moore St. will relocate to another house while the building is gut renovated to replace the floor and upgrade the electricity and plumbing.
A firefighter told Downtown Express back in May that the work could take up to three years, but the fire department would not confirm a schedule.
Jeff Galloway off CB1 after tax fraud
One didn’t have to look to the State Assembly to find misconduct this year. Community Board 1 had its own scandal in June when Jeff Galloway, a 12-year member of the board, pleaded guilty to tax fraud in June.
According to reports, he would have to pay $600,000 in taxes, serve three months in jail and resign from the bar — and, of course, from CB1.
Galloway, 61, failed to file New York State personal income tax returns for five years, between 2005 and 2010, while earning close to $1 million dollars a year as a partner at a prominent law firm.
Howard Hughes backs off the Seaport tower
The long fight over a massive residential tower proposed for a site on the edge of the Seaport historic district finally came to an end this year, when developer Howard Hughes Corp. announced this month it was scrapping plans for the high rise.
In June, Hughes proposed downsizing its 494-foot tower — originally slated to be 650 feet — in a new plan that included sweeteners such as $10 million for the chronically under-funded South Street Seaport Museum, a community center, a marina, affordable housing at Schermerhorn Row and a middle school that would occupy three floors of the tower.
But that proposal failed to appease local opponents, who objected both to the outsized project’s proximity to the historic district and to its threat to neighbors’ East River views.
In December, Hughes confirmed it no longer planned to build a residential tower at the site but rather a low-rise commercial building.
First Downtown Fourth of July parade in 40 years
Macy’s didn’t get all the glow this Fourth of July, as an Independence Day parade returned to Lower Manhattan for the first time in almost four decades.
Leading from Pier 15 to Bowling Green, the march was organized by historian and tour guide James Kaplan, co-founder of the Lower Manhattan Historical Society, to revive the day’s tradition.
“July 4th has become about backyard barbeques, trips to the beach and visiting relatives,” Kaplan said. “It used to be a major celebration in the city but the actual purpose of the day has since been lost.”
As part of the festivities, the Hermione, an authentic replica of the ship that brought the Marquis de Lafayette and news of France’s support back to America 235 years ago, also led a parade of ships up the Hudson River.
Huxley forced out
By this summer, the community and the Battery Park City Authority were locked in a frustrating pattern. The authority would make a decision without consulting the community, the decision was announced, and uproar would ensue.
Days after news of her firing broke, people lined up at Community Board 1’s monthly meeting to praise Huxley’s stewardship of the neighborhood’s parks, often cited as one of the best things about the area.
At the B.P.C.A. board meeting the following week, Huxley was not even mentioned. Then seven hours after the meeting finished, the authority announced Huxley’s departure.
Squadron reignites debate on future of BPCA
A state agency running a city neighborhood is no longer viable, argued state Sen. Daniel Squadron in an August op-ed in this paper calling for the city to take over the authority that runs Battery Park City.
The charter of the Battery Park City Authority —a state agency whose board is appointed by the governor — includes a clause that allows the city to take control for $1 and assumption of the authority’s debt.
It is not a new idea, but with residents’ relations with the authority at a new low, the proposal got a favorable reception when Squadron made the case to the Battery Park City Committee of Community Board 1 in November.
SeaGlass Carousel opens
A new attraction arrived at The Battery this summer, when the long-anticipated SeaGlass carousel finally spun into life in August.
The marine-themed merry-go-round, with its colorful school of glowing fish, quickly became a hit: over Thanksgiving, just three months after opening, the attraction marked its 100,000th ride. The carousel became so popular that the Battery Conservancy extended its opening hours for the holidays and decided to keep it open for weekends and holidays throughout the winter.
Downtown finally gets money for flood protection
Superstorm Sandy hit Lower Manhattan hard, and Downtown is still repairing damage done. So when the area was routinely short-changed on funding for much-needed storm-resiliency measures — just $1.5 million out of billions of dollars allocated over the past three years — the community was baffled.
Things started looking up for Downtown in March, when $15 million was allocated for Manhattan’s southern tip. Then in August, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced the city would spend $100 million to protect Lower Manhattan from another major storm.
The city is hoping to parlay this commitment into more $500 million in federal money from the $1 billion up for grabs as part of the National Disaster Resilience Competition. The city has made it to the second round and the winner will be announced in January.
Downtown needs crossing guards
Downtowners have long called for new schools to serve the growing population, but this year it became obvious that the neighborhood needs additional crossing guards as well.
Lower Manhattan’s chronic lack of crossing guards reached a crisis point in 2015, with four vacancies left unfilled by the end of the summer, at the same time the new Peck Slip School opened at the Seaport.
“I don’t feel comfortable crossing the street,” said one parent, Tricia Joyce, who is also chairwoman of Community Board 1’s Youth and Education Committee.
“Traffic enforcement agents will be out there helping children crossing the street until we hire crossing guards,” the commanding officer, Capt. Mark Iocco, told Downtown Express.
Peck Slip School opens
It took three years of “incubating” at the Dept. of Education’s headquarters, more than two years of renovations costing $58 million, and several years of lobbying by Downtown school advocates and the School Overcrowding Task Force to make the school at 1 Peck Slip a reality.
Pope Francis visits 9/11 Memorial
Pope Francis came to the 9/11 Memorial and Museum on his historic visit to the U.S. this summer, and was deeply moved by the visit.
“I feel many different emotions standing here at ground zero, where thousands of lives were taken in a senseless act of destruction,” the pope said after he greeted family members of some who were killed in the Sept. 11 attacks and led an interfaith service at the museum. “Here grief is palpable.”
Council mulls chopper ban
The Downtown Manhattan Heliport near The Battery is the only heliport in the city that allows sightseeing helicopters to land and take off, and tour flights thunder in an out of the Pier 6 heliport 28 times every hour during the day, seven days a week, according to figures from the Helicopter Tourism & Jobs Council, amounting to more than 100,000 take-offs and landings each year.
Local residents and leaders turned out in force to push the ban, but the Council has not yet set the date for a vote on the legislation.
Peking soap opera
In November, the South Street Seaport Museum confirmed what this paper predicted back in January: the century-old barque Peking will leave the Lower Manhattan berth where it has docked since 1974 and set sail for Germany next spring. The journey to its home port of Hamburg, where it was built in 1911, will likely be the tall ship’s final voyage.
Peking’s departure leaves the Wavertree, currently undergoing a $13 million restoration in Staten Island, as the museum’s only tall-masted sailing ship.
RIP: John Zucotti
The former public official and real estate investor played an outsized role in Lower Manhattan’s development before and after 9/11. As chairman of Gov. Hugh L. Carey’s World Trade Center task force, he was instrumental in the creation not only of the Twin Towers, but also of Battery Park City, which was build on landfill from the original World Trade Center’s excavations. Later, as head of Olympia & York, he developed the World Financial Center, now Brookfield Place.
In the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, Zuccotti helped bring the public and private sectors together to ensure that the neighborhood was rebuilt. More recently, served on the boards of both the Performing Arts Center at the World Trade Center and National September 11th Memorial Museum.
Zadroga Act renewed
At the last possible moment, the U.S. Senate finallyvoted to fund the renewal of the 2010 Zadroga Act, permanently funding health care for first responders and local survivors injured or made ill by the 9/11 attacks.
Local pols lobbied hard for the renewal, which the Senate leadership was refusing to bring to a vote despite it having overwhelming support in both houses of Congress.
In a last-ditch effort, Jon Stewart returned to “The Daily Show” as a guest in December and called for a social-media campaign to shame lawmakers into renewing the 9/11 first-responders’ healthcare program using the hashtag #worstresponders.
Private security at BPC
The Battery Park City Authority brought in private security contractor AlliedBarton to provide yellow-clad “ambassadors” to patrol the neighborhood this month, in yet another surprise move that has outraged residents.
The aim appears to be to replace most or all of the city’s Park Enforcement Patrol, who have patrolled Battery Park City’s greenspaces for years under a contract that ends in late January. The authority has said that it intends to maintain some P.E.P. presence, but details are still being worked out.
Residents worry that replacing P.E.P. officers — who can issue summonses and make arrests — with private security agents with no enforcement powers could put residents at greater risk.
“I’m sorry you’re being robbed, ma’am. Please, sir, can you wait there while I call a cop?” CB1 member Tammy Meltzer joked at a recent meeting, imagining how an AlliedBarton “ambassador” might respond to a crime.
Downtown becomes media mecca
Lower Manhattan officially became the city’s new center for the media industry in 2015 with more than a half-dozen major firms settling in to new Downtown offices or announcing plans to make the move.
Time Inc. moved in to its new offices in Brookfield Place this year, becoming new neighbors to publishers Condé Nast and Harper Collins.
SportsNet New York inked a deal to for space in 4 WTC, and 21st Century Fox and News Corp. — publisher of the New York Post and The Wall Street Journal — recently signed on as anchor tenants for 2 WTC. TheNew York Observer has also announced plans to relocate Downtown, joining the New York Daily News, which made the move in 2011.
The latest media giant to head south of Canal St. is the Associated Press, which announced in late December that it would move into Brookfield Place in 2017.
— Dusica Sue Malesevic, Yannic Rack, and Bill Egbert