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Downtown Alliance, June 2008

Downtown Dialogue

Live . . . work . . . thrive. . . Downtown

By Liz Berger

A new employee here at the Downtown Alliance recently asked me when I last felt thrilled to be Downtown.

Sitting in Bowling Green Park at the of The Sports Museum of America, listening to Mayor Bloomberg, Martina Navratilova, Billie Jean King, Eli Manning and Walt Frazier talk about being Downtown?

Hosting more than 200 Downtown residents and employees – and a tourist or two – at the Downtown Alliance’s first annual Green Around Downtown Community Planting Day—an exuberant event in Wall Street Park where folks got their hands dirty, got to know each other and were so enthusiastic that they stayed long after we ran out of landscaping chores?

At the opening of Ciao Bow Wow, a new, Financial District doggie day spa, whose owner has lived Downtown for more than three decades?

And, that was just last week. Day in and day out, what makes Downtown so thrilling are the people, the places and the infinite sense of change and opportunity.

It’s the opening of the Manhattan Youth Community Center and working with the City, the MTA, Goldman Sachs and AIG on Re:Construction, our construction-mitigation project which uses construction sites as canvasses for temporary public art and architecture projects. It’s how Warrie Price is re-imagining the Battery and how Brookfield Properties has created an urban oasis in Zuccotti Park, where Mark di Suvero’s “Joie de Vivre” nods across Broadway to Isamu Noguchi’s “Red Cube.” It’s the very new and beautiful 7 World Trade Center and the very old and beautiful Federal Hall. It’s waiting on line with more than 25,000 people to sample the best of Downtown’s culinary bounty at our tenth annual Dine Around Downtown on Chase Manhattan Plaza, recently renamed in honor of David Rockefeller, who created the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council and the Partnership for New York City. It’s the 311,000 people who work here, the 50,000 people who live here and the community they have built together.

I have lived and worked south of Chambers Street for 26 years and watched the old Downtown become the new Downtown: a vibrant mixed use district where people live, work and thrive. In that quarter-century, Downtown has gone back to the future. The last section of town that stills feels like old New York, literally off the grid, Downtown still channels the mercantile spirit of New Amsterdam and, on the eve of the Quadricentennial of Henry Hudson’s arrival, has emerged as a model for a 21st century central business district. Downtown is one square mile that has it all, Wall Street and Stone Street and everything in between: 47.6 million square feet of premium office space, 24,000 apartments and condos, ten hotels, four elementary schools, seven universities, 1,200 stores and restaurants, eleven museums, over 80 acres of park, 15 subways lines, two ball fields and six million tourists a year! It is a sophisticated, sustainable urban area that works on a human scale--a little “green” village of international significance and proportion.

Last November, I became President of the Downtown Alliance, the business improvement district, established in 1995, whose visionary private sector founders partnered with government to jump start this transformation. They understood that the future of Lower Manhattan as a major business center is inexorably linked to the growth of the residential population, and the creation of a 24/7 community. I am proud that the Downtown Alliance has led the way, providing supplemental sanitation, public safety and transportation, encouraging commercial investment, supporting residential development, advocating for quality retail and services and promoting Downtown’s economic, cultural and historic strength with programs as diverse as the River to River Festival, Downtown Third Thursdays, the Canyon of Heroes Broadway streetscape initiative, original economic and demographic research, Going Green Downtown and our extraordinary website, www.downtownny.com.

My goal is to build on the Alliance’s 14 years of achievement in three ways: make daily life better now, for businesses and residents alike; do our usual supplemental service and economic development work under these most unusual of post-9/11 circumstances; and, develop a vision of what Downtown can be, beyond the completion of the Fulton Transit Center, the World Trade Center site and other vital projects currently underway. We will work with government, business and residents, and continue to keep the district safe and clean; run our free bus shuttle, the Downtown Connection; fight for clear streets and sidewalks; and study, market and find new ways to serve the district. But we will also dream.

As Yeats wrote, in dreams begin responsibilities. Expect this column to be a little of both. You can expect me to write about transportation infrastructure and our Movie Nights at the Elevated Acre at 55 Water Street, what government should (and shouldn’t) be doing and the transcendent power of Tribute in Light, the problem with street vending and the beauty of walking our neighborhood at 6am . But whatever the topic, I’ll be writing – and advocating – with passion. I’m thrilled to be at the Downtown Alliance and, as that new employee learned, filled with ideas about what makes Downtown great and how to make it even better.

-- Liz Berger is President of Downtown Alliance




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