Work readies to spruce up Water St. plaza

By Jane Flanagan

Most people walking by don’t know that the long, outdoor escalator at 55 Water St. just south of Wall St., leads to a park with a gorgeous view of the East River. Even if they do know, few are tempted to use it. The park is all but devoid of greenery; it is, instead, a mass of dingy concrete. In addition, all that protects parkgoers – notably small children – from a 50-foot drop to the F.D.R, is a single, thin chord.

All that is about to change.

Work will soon begin to transform the elevated plaza into a lushly landscaped park with a 7,000 square foot, hopefully, grass plaza. It will also include a tower, surrounded by ramps to afford even better views of the river. The tower, known as “the beacon,” will shine light on the park for evening concerts and other events.

“It won’t be the great lawn at Central Park, but for the Financial District it will be pretty nice,” said Ken Smith, the project’s landscape architect.

Benches as well as moveable tables and chairs will also be installed.

Smith said that he hopes people will use it the way they do Bryant Park for eating lunch and enjoying local events like those sponsored by the Tribeca Film Festival.

The architects indicated that it’s not absolutely certain that grass is feasible for the upper-story plaza but said they are making every effort to use it. Ray O’Keefe, chairperson of C.B. 1’s Financial District Committee, where the architects presented the plans last week, said the issue was a key one.

“The material is going to be very important,” said O’Keefe. “If you have a hard surface, not only is it ugly, but skateboarders will use it,” he said.

This park is unusual in that it is two stories above ground level, something of a barrier to attracting passersby. The architects are hoping to attract them by transforming the existing staircase into a series of steps broken up by attractive landscaped plateaus. The escalators will continue to operate and the park will be will be handicap accessible via elevators inside the building.

The park will also cantilever out over the F.D.R. affording both more square footage and some degree of soundproofing. The flimsy railings will also be replaced.

O’Keefe inquired about the success of other raised parks.

“When this one is finished, it will be the first raised park,” laughed Smith.

O’Keefe applauded the design.

“It’s a difficult space,” he said. “From what I’ve seen you have worked very creatively to make it the best it can be. And you are not doing it cheaply. I think that’s laudable,” he said.

Work will begin in a few weeks and will take approximately 15 months to complete. It is scheduled to open in July 2004 and will be closed throughout the construction.


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