- Real Estate
- Under Cover
- Special Editorial
- In Pictures
BY COLIN MIXSON
Members of Community Board 1 are calling for the Parks Department to shelve a controversial plan to place a high-concept sculpture at Peck Slip Plaza, and asking the city for a traffic study looking at the possible effects of closing the portion of Front Street that bisects the park.
The CB1 committee overseeing Downtown parks voted on Oct. 17 to ask the full board to endorse a resolution demanding that the city abandon a decade-old plan to install an ugly, skeletal structure resembling a burned-out ship in the open space, despite the Parks Department’s fear that nixing the maritime-themed sculpture would jeopardize the $4.3 million in funding earmarked for the Peck Slip Plaza project.
Locals are all for the investment in their park — just not the weird shipwreck sculpture, according to the vice chairman of CB1.
“I think it’s pretty clear what we don’t want to see,” said Paul Hovitz. “We don’t want to see the skeleton of the ship.”
Parks got its hands on the $4.3 million from the state and federal government through the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation back in 2006, and the agency showed the community board its plan for the sculpture in 2008, saying it was included to please the state’s Historic Preservation Office, which wanted the area’s shipping history to be reflected in the new park designs, according to Hovitz.
At the time, the drab, asphalt plaza stretching along Peck Slip between Water and South streets, was primarily used for parking, and since the plan included some plantings and greenery in addition to the skeletal artwork, the community board signed off on the project, Hovitz said.
“We said ‘okay,’ because, frankly, anything would have been better than a parking lot,” he explained.
But locals soon came to recognize the value of open space — green or not — in crowded Downtown, so the community board went back to the Parks Department requesting they ax the statue, because it would take space away from the plaza’s newfound purpose — child’s play.
“The cars were cleared out, so we had these two empty lots that quickly became used by children for play areas,” Hovitz said.
The Parks Department heard the community’s concerns, but reps told CB1 that cutting out the sculpture could result in the state cutting the project’s funding, but the agency, according to Hovitz, had a plan.
He said Parks planned to would go forward with a competitive bidding process to select a contractor for the project, but told board members the bids were expected to come back over-budget, which would give the agency its excuse to nix the ship sculpture without running afoul of the state.
“The said hold off, because we’re concerned if we change the design, we’ll lose funding,” Hovitz recounted. “Let us go out to bid and if the bid comes back as we think it will — over-budget — then we have an excuse at redesigning.”
But that was back in 2009, and while the plaza was repaved and boulders installed around its perimeter in work that spanned 2011 and 2014, the city office stayed quiet regarding the fate of the funds, and the board’s requests for updates went largely unanswered.
“We waited two or three years, and whenever we asked Parks they said, ‘we’ll get to it,’” Hovitz said.
Eventually, Parks told CB1 last year that it was going forward with the plan — including the sculpture — and members moved quickly to oppose it, voting on a resolution requesting the agency preserve the plaza as a “piazza” style open space, without any large an obtrusive structures.
In response, a Parks rep told board members that they could expect the entire project to be dropped, and so CB1 rallied again — this time to get the project back on the books for fear of missing out on the chance of getting any improvements to Peck Slip Plaza.
“The money was earmarked for that site and we think it should be used there,” said Hovitz. “We don’t think the city should simply leave it the way it is.”
On Sept. 25, the Parks Department met with community members at South Bridge Towers to gather input on what they want for the plaza — ideally without tearing up the agency’s designs.
“What we’re hoping to do is not go all the way back to square one,” Steve Simon, chief of staff for the Parks Department’s Manhattan borough commissioner, told the crowd at South Bridge.
But as the microphone was passed around to local residents, it quickly became clear that the project’s centerpiece had to go.
“We say ‘no’ to sculptures involving the ribs of ships and other development that would interfere with the Slip’s open character,” said Neil Mossberg. “Peck Slip must remain an open square.”
In lieu of the odd shipping homage, locals suggested working with local organizations like the South Street Seaport Museum to host events there, build sports facilities for older kids, and install new planters and benches that could double as barriers separating children from cars.
Locals also discussed the merits of closing the brief span of Front Street that crosses through the plaza, with some locals expressing safety concerns, and others fears that traffic would be exasperated by the closure.
Front Street resident Joe Astill suggested keeping Front Street open, while enhancing safety through the installation of stops signs and road bumps.
“We don’t want to see Front Street blocked off,” said Astill. “It’s congested enough as it is. What we would like to see is more stop signs.”
CB1’s Waterfront, Parks, and Resiliency Committee wrote a resolution rejecting the shipwreck sculpture and requesting a traffic study, which the full board is expected to vote on at its Oct. 25 meeting.