Volume 18, Number 50 | April 28 - May 4, 2006

Downtown Express photo by Jefferson Siegel

Cobblestoned Peck Slip is now in disrepair but city officials and Seaport residents are beginning to consider what is the best idea for the historic street.

Park, piazza or pool? Debate over Peck Slip’s future

By Ronda Kaysen

Peck Slip might be a neglected, rutted street now, but some local residents and business leaders have a different vision for the unruly road. They hope to transform it into a cobblestone piazza in the spirit of Rome or Paris.

The city has long considered giving shape to the unwieldy street that sits between South and Pearl Sts. Last year, it fielded the idea of building a reflecting pool in the center, harking back to the street’s watery past when it was a slip where boats docked. It has also considered planting a grass park in the center.

But at a symposium about the Seaport last month, residents and business leaders came up with the idea of a piazza for their slip, transforming the triangular swath into a cobbled gathering space in the midst of a historic district.

“Not every open space needs to be filled, sometimes it just needs to be,” said Gary Fagin, a longtime Seaport resident whose group, Seaport Community Coalition, organized the symposium, Seaport Speaks. “This is historically not a green area.”

Peck Slip is the last open slip in Manhattan, said Fagin, and its future should reflect its past.

Peck Slip wasn’t always a street of broken bluestone and loose, uneven cobblestones threatening to trip an unassuming passerby. It was part of the East River—a slip for boats to dock—until 1810. And it once offered George Washington cover when he and his troops fled the British after losing the Battle of Brooklyn. Until the Fulton Fish Market left the area late last year, the slip was used as a fish market parking lot.

The City Dept. of Transportation is working on a plan with the Parks Dept. to restore the slip. On Monday, D.O.T. presented its plans to replace the missing cobblestones and broken bluestone to the Landmarks Preservation Commission, which oversees the historic district. The commission did not approve the plans, asking that bluestone be incorporated into all of the sidewalks, rather than replace the stone where it was before. The commission also suggested designing a single island in the center of the street rather than two separate islands.

“We had this all set up and now that Landmarks had those questions, we have to redevelop the plan,” said D.O.T. spokesperson Craig Chin. The agency had planned to begin restoring the street in fiscal year 2007, but “Now that we have to make changes [the date] might get pushed back.”

Park or plaza, some local residents and workers would like to see the aging street resurfaced now. “If we have cobblestones that are causing a pedestrian trip hazard, the city needs to take the necessary steps to get this resolved,” said Phil Fox, an engineer who works in the neighborhood. “All that I want to see is a safe roadway surface where people don’t trip and fall.”

Not everyone is so impatient. “We’ve waited this long, so if we have to wait another few months to get it right, we think that makes a lot of sense,” said Paul Goldstein, district manager of Community Board 1 and a resident of nearby Southbridge Towers. Goldstein would like to see the Parks Dept. present a design soon, to get the process moving. “I suspect that they want to move forward. Are they hiring outside consultants? Are they doing it in house?” he said.

Chin at D.O.T. said his agency planned to meet with the Parks Dept. “in a couple of months.”

Peck Slip is being redesigned as part of the East River Waterfront redevelopment, a $150 million project funded by the Lower Manhattan Development Corp. “We are in the process of bringing consultants on board now to be able to start design work in the next few months,” said Carli Smith, a Parks Dept. spokesperson, in an e-mail to Downtown Express. Smith predicts that construction will begin in late 2007, “depending on the public reviews, and the design review process.”

The recent Seaport Speaks symposium alerted the board to changing opinions in the community. C.B. 1 never supported a reflecting pool for the slip, but it had supported the idea of a more traditional park. Now, with the idea of a piazza on the table, Goldstein expects the future of Peck Slip to be revisited again. “This is a contentious issue, how that park space is going to be designed,” he said. “We are calling for an open process and hopefully we’ll come to a consensus

Ronda@DowntownExpress.com


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