Volume 18 • Issue 30 | December 9 - 15, 2005

Talking Point

The city wants to extend Cortland St. one block from Church to Greenwich Sts. as shown in the diagram while the Port Authority hopes to build a glass atrium there to connect the retail spaces along Church St.

Open up to closing off Cortlandt St.

By David Stanke

Do you want your retail back?

The most significant 9/11 loss of facilities for the World Trade Center community, was the retail shopping concourse. It was our town center. All community redevelopment discussions stress the importance of retail facilities. Port Authority plans to maximize the retail given site limitations by putting a Winter Garden-like enclosure over Cortlandt St. between Church and Greenwich. Anyone working in the World Financial Center or living in Battery Park City understands how important the Winter Garden is as a pedestrian walkway and retail center. It is the glue of commercial, neighborhood and tourist communities.

The opening of the Winter Garden after 9/11 was one of the most dramatic markers of our recovery. The Cortlandt atrium, as the Winter Garden of W.T.C. east, would be a huge benefit to every community using the W.T.C.

Unfortunately, the Bloomberg administration has different priorities. The city wants to extend Cortlandt 200 feet from Church to Greenwich as a traditional 45-foot-wide street. According to the Port Authority, these modifications will eliminate 30 percent of W.T.C. retail space. In exchange for this loss, we will get one more sight line over the subterranean mega-memorial. It is unfortunate that residents need to lobby for what the free market would naturally provide: the best pedestrian and retail environment possible.

In the opinion of City Planning, Cortlandt provides the only direct visual link between Broadway and the memorial. While not completely accurate (Liberty provides some of this view), it brings to mind just one question: Why is it important to view the subterranean memorial by looking up a narrow street from two blocks away on Broadway?

With the abundance of openness across the site, an additional sight line from Broadway to the World Financial Center is just not important. The Port Authority plan for a Cortlandt atrium will allow east-west pedestrian passage to the memorial and view lines across the memorial. It will also create a two-block, enclosed north-south, street-level retail passage. The glass structure over Cortlandt will retain the openness between the planned commercial buildings. It will provide an attractive gathering point that gracefully connects the commercial buildings to the north and south, while visually breaking up the facades along Church and Greenwich Sts.

The P.A. plan creates retail at street level, below grade, and two stories above grade. The Port Authority plan provides easily-accessible upper-level retail that will leverage street level retail and surrounding commercial space. In addition, the second and third floors of the Cortlandt atrium will offer the best publicly-accessible views of the memorial. The spectacular views of the memorial and Freedom Tower will draw people into the neighborhood and up into the second- and third-floor retail spaces.

Our old super-block of retail is gone. But Cortlandt will be a unique retail environment that will add to the attractiveness of the area and increase pedestrian presence on surrounding streets. This retail environment, along with Century 21 and J&R Music will strengthen Downtown as a weekend shopping destination — the fastest way to increase street vitality on weekends.

W.T.C. retail was legendary for having the highest sales revenue per square foot in the country. This is the only meaningful measure of value to the communities of Lower Manhattan. The P.A. plan will produce 500,000 square feet of retail. The city’s plan will reduce this total to between 350,000 and 400,000 square feet, a reduction of up to 30%. For comparison, there was 450,000 square feet of space before 9/11. An expansion to 600,000 square feet of retail was just beginning before the attack. The drop from 600,000 to 350,000 would be a dramatic loss for the community.

“Opening” Cortlandt will have other negative impacts. It will take away an indoor area needed for escalator access between retail floors. This eliminates the third-floor retail, and reduces the usability of all levels. An opened Cortlandt will be mostly in shadows and void of people. It will turn the area into just another Downtown street corner, reducing the vitality.

This 45-foot-wide stretch of Cortlandt is not important for vehicular traffic, and in fact, it will produce a security risk. Today, Cortlandt is a dead-end street used primarily for deliveries and by vehicles circling for parking. Extending a narrow street between two new W.T.C. buildings is not a responsible plan.

Another criticism of the P.A. plan is that it creates a 475-foot building wall along Church St. This 475-foot stretch is no longer than many Midtown blocks. The glass enclosure between Greenwich and Church stretches the block to a comfortable size and enhances the entrance for retail and commercial facilities as well as the Path Station. With good architecture, the walk along Church will traverse two beautiful buildings visually separated by an atrium that complements the overall site.

The Port Authority reports that retail interest in a W.T.C. location is strong, already exceeding available space. There is a clear need to maximize retail space for future market demand.

City Planning is mindlessly applying theoretical constructs and dogmatic solutions that deny reality. The Port Authority, Silverstein Properties, and local residents regularly agree on the broad vision for the W.T.C. site. This should be no surprise, since these are the people who owned and used the site prior to 9/11. Let’s hope the Bloomberg administration will listen and respect our knowledge and vision.

David Stanke lives and writes in Downtown Manhattan. His e-mail is davestanke@ebond.com.


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