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BY COLIN MIXSON
The city did something right!
Downtown residents living around Peck Slip Park offered rare praise to Parks Department officials at a meeting at South Bridge Towers on May 15, after the agency presented new plans that preserved the park’s open space and axed the installation of a much-loathed sculpture resembling the ribs of a burned-out shipwreck.
“Taking away one of the last few open spaces in Lower Manhattan really didn’t make sense to anyone, so from that point we appreciate you listening, and the work to go back to the design of it,” Neil Mossberg, chairman of the Old Seaport Alliance, said at the meeting of Community Board 1’s Waterfront, Parks and Resiliency Committee.
The so-called “ghost ship” sculpture had been a part of the city’s plans for the plaza-style park — which also included planters, benches, trees, and other beautifying elements — since 2007, which the board had actually approved in a prior vote.
But that reluctant sign-off came only after city officials convinced board members that the State Historic Preservation Office (SHIPO) wouldn’t fund any project that didn’t include some elements highlighting the Seaport’s nautical past, according to one board honcho, who said that local civic gurus didn’t want to risk loosing the $4.2 million earmarked for beautifying what was then just a glorified parking lot.
“You need to realize that a good deal of that design was forced on us by SHIPO,” said Paul Hovitz, vice-chairman of CB1. “We were informed they wouldn’t allow funding to come through if we didn’t do the design in a fashion in which they could support it historically.”
But board members quickly recanted their support for the project, telling Parks officials they really didn’t want to lose so much of the neighborhood’s open play space — especially to the hated ghost ship. The agency, in turn, told locals it expected contractors to return with bids that put the project over cost — a loophole which would give the city an excuse to drop the sculpture that SHIPO would have to accept, Hovitz said.
That was in 2009, and — while the city repaved the plaza and installed boulders along its boundaries between 2011 and 2014 — funds for the project remained in limbo until 2017, when board members revived the issue with a resolution imploring the Parks Department to go ahead the project, but not the statue.
A subsequent townhall-style meeting gave locals a chance to pitch ideas to the agency before officials went back to the drawing board and came up with the new designs.
And wouldn’t you know it, the city did a great job, according to one local mom.
“This design is beautiful, it accommodates things for children, for seniors, for so many of the people that live, work, and play at the Seaport, so thank you,” said Emily Helstrom, president of the PTA at Peck Slip School, at the South Bridge meeting.
In addition to eliminating the ghost ship, the new plans also axe the boulders currently lining Peck Slip Park, which will be used to line new planters that will be installed at the plaza, while being replaced with bollards and granite benches to protect the space from surrounding traffic.
The park will be repaved with the same type of granite blocks that can be found along roads throughout the Seaport historic district, and new trees will be planted along the plaza’s northern edge.
Following the plan’s announcement at the May 15 committee meeting, the full board met on May 22, where it resoundingly endorsed the new design.