Downtown clash: parks vs. subways

By Josh Rogers

Diagrams of proposed Second Ave. Circles denote plazas or playgrounds which would be affected by the M.T.A. plans.

The drive to improve Lower Manhattan’s parks and subway service continued on its one-track collision course last week as Community Board 1 wrestled last week with the ways the subway plans will affect the proposed open space improvements.

The extension of the 1,9 South Ferry subway station and the construction of the longer-term Second Ave. subway project will affect several of the parks and plazas slated for upgrades over the next year.

Bob Redmond, the city Parks Dept.’s veteran director of capital projects, told members of C.B. 1’s Financial District committee not to be too worried about the Water St. plazas where the Metropolitan Transportation Authority proposes to build subway entrances for the Second Ave. subway line.

“If I live for 50 years and ride on the Second Ave. subway, I’d be surprised,” Redmond said last week.

The M.T.A., controlled by New York State, has a more ambitious timetable. The authority hopes to begin construction by the end of next year on the long-awaited line between 125th St. and Hanover Sq. It would connect with the Metro-North commuter trains and the Bronx Lexington Ave. trains in Harlem and help relieve the overcrowding on the Lexington Ave. trains in Manhattan.

The authority has enough money to design the line and conduct the expensive engineering and environmental studies, but it has not yet identified the funds to build a new subway tunnel at a cost that some estimate will be $17 billion. The M.T.A. has not decided which sections it will build first, so it could decide not to extend the line into Lower Manhattan if it runs out of money for the project.

A more immediate subway project is at South Ferry and it will affect historic Battery Park. Pat Kirschner, director of operations of the Battery Conservancy, said the extension of the subway line will mean that 27 trees, some of them quite mature, will have to be killed and 20 others are likely to suffer damage since they are adjacent to the proposed construction area, which is primarily in the northeast section of the park. A new entrance to the 1,9 would be built near the park on State St.

Kirschner said the proposal is better than the M.T.A.’s original plan, which would have permanently taken over a large section of the park. Kirschner said the conservancy has not taken an official position on the South Ferry plan, since its board has not seen a formal presentation, but “I don’t think we like it much,” she said.

“We can’t get the M.T.A. to give us materials [on the plan],” Kirschner added. “They have not returned my phone calls.”

M.T.A. spokespeople, in the past, have not responded to questions from Downtown Express about the project, saying the final details have not been decided.

Gov. George Pataki said in April that the $400 million station upgrade was going to happen. The larger station would enable the trains to move faster since they won’t have to slow down to turn around at South Ferry. Passengers would also be able to exit from every car rather than from just the front ones.

Two members of the board of the Lower Manhattan Development Corp., Madelyn Wils, who is also C.B. 1 chairperson, and Carl Weisbrod, president of the Downtown Alliance, both argue that the money to pay for South Ferry should not come out of federal funds to rebuild Lower Manhattan since they say connecting Downtown to the Long Island Rail Road and J.F.K. Airport is a more pressing priority and the South Ferry project is more of a means to speed connections between Staten Island and Midtown

C.B. 1’s Financial District committee decided not to take a position on the South Ferry proposal until the Battery Conservancy gets a detailed presentation from the M.T.A.

The committee did voice its support for the park and plaza improvements and asked the M.T.A. to consider moving the proposed entrances out of the open space areas. The board has been supportive of the Second Ave. project.

The M.T.A. favors building entrances to the Hanover Sq. station inside the proposed Wall St. triangle plaza and the existing plaza at Coenties Sl. Both were two of the 13 park projects that the Parks Dept. and the L.M.D.C. have identified they will improve within the next year at a cost of $25 million, although neither agency has released the dollar amount for each specific project.

The triangle, one of the only new plazas that will be created under the plan, will have two rows of metasequoia trees — a type of fir that is rarely seen in the city. The trees at the east end of Wall St. will create a pathway known as an allée and create a view corridor to historic Trinity Church at the west end of Wall St. The triangle, which is less than one acre, will also have benches and a fountain with a sculpture.

Downtown Express photo by Wozzy Dias

This section of Battery Park would likely lose about 29 trees under the plan to redesign the South Ferry subway station.

Michael Bolger, the Parks Dept.’s team leader of capital projects in Manhattan, said the city’s Art Commission has raised objections to the triangle plaza, which is now a parking lot, and the configuration could very well be altered.

“It’s likely to have a significantly different form if not a dramatically form,” Bolger said.

Deborah Bershad, executive director of the commission, declined to answer any questions on the project.

It would not be the first time that Parks and the commission, which are both controlled by the mayor, have clashed. Former Parks Commissioner Henry Stern often argued with the commission over the merits of flagpole yardarms in parks. The 11-member commission must approve most proposed public art, streetscape or park changes in the city before they can proceed.

The M.T.A. also favors taking over the Jehovah’s Witness Church on Pearl St. and Yip’s Chinese-Italian takeout on Water St. to house venting systems for the Seaport and Hanover Sq. stations. The owners of the two buildings have not been contacted yet since a voluntary, or if need be, a forced sale to the M.T.A. is not imminent. C.B. 1 has not raised objections to either proposed takeover.

The Second Ave. subway Seaport station near Fulton St. is likely to require the M.T.A. to take over the playground near Southbridge Towers for several years, although officials said several weeks ago that they thought they could expand the playground once the construction is complete.

The board’s Seaport committee will discuss the subway plan at a meeting July 15 at 5:30 p.m. at 49-51 Chambers St., in room 709.


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