Volume 18 • Issue 11 | August 5 - 11, 2005

Downtown Express photos by Elisabeth Robert

Most of the new plaza at Coenties Slip is used by a restaurant, left. Wall Street Park, right.

A tale of 3 plazas

By Olga Mantilla with Josh Rogers

There is little room for open space in the Financial District’s East Side, so two years ago, when the Lower Manhattan Development Corp. and the Parks Dept. announced plans to build or renovate 13 Downtown parks with $25 million, officials turned their attention to three small plazas on the east side.

The three have all recently opened. Visitors had almost universal praise for two of them, Wall Street Park and Old Slip, but the reviews were mixed at the third because a restaurant uses most the plaza for an outdoor cafe.

“This is a park?” asked Frances, a confused visitor to Coenties Slip, who declined to give her last name. “I thought it was just an extension of this deli.”

Adrian Benepe, the city’s Parks Commissioner, said that Coenties would be a place “where we will transform a closed roadbed into a permanent public space,” in a 2004 column he wrote for Downtown Express.

Carli Smith, a spokesperson for Benepe, said Parks entered into an agreement with the Downtown Alliance to maintain the space. The Alliance, which runs the area’s business improvement district, awarded a contract for a plaza cafe to Zigolini’s, the restaurant-deli adjacent to the plaza.

The Alliance’s Valerie Lewis said Ziglioni’s was the only one to bid on the contract. She said without the cafe there would be no money to maintain the plaza.

Old Slip plaza

“The [L.M.D.C.] money was for building, it was not for maintaining,” said Lewis. “The Parks’ goal was to find someone to maintain the parks. And they selected the Alliance to maintain Coenties Slip,” adding it “is a great arrangement that works to provide public space that otherwise would not be maintained… “There are people eating, enjoying and sitting down. It’s a much-needed amenity for the people Downtown who need this public space. [It’s] a success.”

She said Zigolini’s owner, Jason Francisco, pays the Alliance $15,000 per year for about about 900 square feet of a 1,500 square-foot park. She said all of the money is used to maintain Coenties. Smith at Parks’ said the Alliance pays the city five percent of the rent, which goes into the general revenue stream.

In the 1990s, the Alliance suggested closing part of Coenties for a temporary plaza, which the Alliance financed.

The permanent triangular plaza, funded mostly by the L.M.D.C., cost $925,000 and Parks and the Alliance are seeking funding for a water feature that will grace the center of space.

Naomi, who works across the street from Coenties, said the restaurant has too much space. “They put a few benches, but they’re just on the side. They should have put more in, instead of these restaurant tables. I don’t like it.”

Francisco’s contract with Downtown Alliance requires him to set out tables and chairs for the public, “not just for my customers,” during restaurant hours. The public tables have no tablecloth or umbrella, but several plaza visitors said they thought they were for the restaurant.

Norma Castro, who was visiting the plaza thought “it’s a double-edge sword. It’s sad that the core of the space is used by the restaurant. On the other hand, we need more outdoor seating for the business people in the area to go.”

She said the maintenance money is well spent. “They keep it clean,” she said. “They put nice benches. I don’t mind sitting here.”

Wall Street Park and Old Slip visitors were overwhelmingly positive about the new spaces.

Old Slip, a $1.5 million plaza, fronts the Police Museum on the corner of Water and Old Slip. Gloria Rodriguez, a Bronx resident, noted that, “without the construction, it’s pretty quiet. I enjoy the limited time I’m here,” she said as she waited for a friend.

“I like shade and I like the flowers,” Pam Graham, a program analyst from Brooklyn said under cool shade of the Wall Street Park trees. “Not unless you go to actual parks, the shade and flowers are not the norm.”

The verdant space of Wall Street Park, a plaza with an inimitable view of Trinity church to the west, is a $3.1 million project that drew contributions from the Deusche Bank and the L.M.D.C. Split in two parts between South and Front Street, the park introduced greenery to the industrial streets, Graham said. “There were no trees or flowers here [before].”

“I come here to get out of the office,” Isabel Mejia, a Brooklyn resident said as the drilling and welding of construction echoed half a block away from her bench in Wall Street Park. “It’s comfortable, and peaceful. It’s a quiet space among these busy streets,”

“You have to walk quite a distance to find a place like this,” Upper East Sider Angela Ottomanelli remarked. “The more green space, the better.”


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