Volume 17, Number 52 | May 20 - 26, 2005

Conceptual rendering of restored Fulton St. storefronts between Nassau and Dutch Sts.

Fulton St. remains in the mix of rebuilding ideas

By Ronda Kaysen

Fulton St., a dreary mélange of tawdry awnings and uninspired shops, is getting some serious attention. The Lower Manhattan Development Corporation has turned its interest to the neglected district in recent months, with hopes of creating a more vibrant, memorable neighborhood.

The corporation unveiled the findings from a revitalization study last month and is considering spending $40 million on sweeping changes for the corridor. The World Trade Center site plan already includes extending Fulton St. to Battery Park City.

“The Fulton St. study offers the opportunity to bring new activity, bolster street-oriented retail, and create additional open space to what will become a very important east-west connection,” said Stefan Pryor, L.M.D.C.’s new president, in an e-mail statement to the Downtown Express.

The plan would provide grants for retailers, replace a retail building at Southbridge with a new mixed-use building and replace an existing clinic with a larger, modern facility. It also calls for restoring building facades and creating a uniform streetscape that will involve repaving streets and sidewalks, and replacing streetlights and signage.

The Fulton St. area lures tourists traveling to and from the W.T.C. site, and with a new transit hub in preliminary construction, it will soon become even more of a focal point than it is already. According to the Downtown Alliance, there is over $1.4 billion in unmet retail demand in Lower Manhattan. Clearly, the new W.T.C. will not be able to absorb all of the demand. The Downtown residential population is quickly growing — with retail needs of their own — and local residents are anxious to see a new Fulton St. serve their needs as well.

“This is an opportunity to make sure that the retail is sensitive to the people who live and work in the area,” said Julie Menin, Wall Street Rising president and a member of Community Board 1. “It is important to have retail that doesn’t solely cater to tourists.”

Retail can serve many consumers — including those who live nearby, the Department of City Planning, which has been working with the L.M.D.C. on the project, insists. “We are committed to promoting a diverse mix of retail that serves all of the people in Lower Manhattan, not just the tourist populations,” wrote Michael Samuelian, director of Lower Manhattan special projects for City Planning in an email interview, adding that grocery stores and restaurants would serve the local community well. “While we cannot control the retail tenants on the street, incentives can potentially be tailored to promote local businesses, cultural destinations or other types of uses that are desired by the community.”

The Fulton St. area — and Downtown in general — suffers from a dearth of park space. The L.M.D.C.’s plan would create 22,000 square feet of new park space, including a new park, Delury Square Park, by joining Delury Plaza with the adjacent block. A new 12,000 sq. ft. park would also be created on the unused portion of Burling Slip and a renovated Titanic Memorial Park would have a nautical theme and a restored memorial.

The Downtown Alliance, which runs the neighborhood’s business improvement district, is less focused on the neighborhood’s long-term retail goals than it is on how the area’s current businesses will cope in the coming months as the mammoth construction projects get underway. “During the construction period, Fulton St. should be open to traffic,” said Thomas Nardacci, an Alliance spokesperson. “As far as the Fulton Corridor report is concerned, that’s something that needs to be revisited” after the construction concerns are addressed.

In an effort to stave off a traffic crisis, the Alliance launched a campaign to re-open Fulton St. between Broadway and Gold Sts. and John St. between Broadway and William Sts. to traffic. Both streets are currently closed on weekdays from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Not everyone is keen on the idea of easing traffic woes, however. “It was a long hard fight to close that street. If we open it, we’ll never get it closed again,” said C.B. 1 member Joe Lerner at a recent presentation of the Alliance’s proposal. “We need more pedestrians, it’ll be a hell of a lot better for everyone.”

Years of construction will have an impact on local business owners, who worry that closed streets will shut off access to their shops. “The restaurant business is going to get killed,” said A & M Roadhouse owner Arthur Gregory at the meeting. As for the pedestrians looking for a place to amble: “You want to walk? We’ve got Pier 17; we’ve got the waterfront. Go walk there.”


Ronda@DowntownExpress.com

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