Volume 19 • Issue 5 | June 16 - 22, 2006

Downtowners turn eye to Peck Slip, waterfront plans

By Ronda Kaysen

While most New Yorkers hunger for a grassy, green oasis for respite, Seaport residents are the rare exception. They have no interest in changing a triangular, cobblestone swath of their neighborhood into a green, flowery park. Instead, they hope to see Peck Slip become a stony piazza that will hark back to the seafaring days of the neighborhood’s watery past.

“This is absolutely a unique space in New York City,” said Battery Park City resident Jordan Gruzen at a recent Community Board 1 Seaport and Civic Center Committee meeting. “There are places in Rome that have a wonderful sense as an urban place. Rather than refer to it as a park, I suggest we refer to it as a plaza or a piazza.”

Nearly 70 residents turned out to the June 13 meeting to hear a city Dept. of Parks and Recreation presentation about the future of the three-block long slip, which is now a wide, formless street used mainly as an ad hoc parking lot.

The slip, which runs through Water, Front and South Sts., has had the attention of the city for several years. The Dept. of Transportation has been at work on a plan to replace and restore broken cobblestones and fix the sidewalks. The slip is also part of a $150 million plan, funded by the Lower Manhattan Development Corp., to renovate the East River Waterfront.

“What we’re thinking of right now is an open space, a place that people can use, that brings with it certain things—benches, lighting, security,” Lawrence Mauro, a project manager for the Parks Dept., told board members at the public meeting. “It doesn’t necessarily mean a green lawn in the center with trees and flowers.”

The Parks Dept. recently selected the architectural firm Quennell Rothschild and artist George Trakas to design the park. Rothschild has designed several city parks, including the East River esplanade and the master plan for the Hudson River Park.

D.O.T. is considering closing off Front St. to increase public space at the park, a suggestion that received mixed support from the public. “We need to think long and hard about closing streets on a permanent basis,” said C.B. 1 member Paul Hovitz.

Mauro expects D.O.T. and Parks to meet later this month to further discuss the park’s future and make another presentation to the community board next month. “We’re going to sit down with D.O.T. and start a cooperative design process,” Mauro said.

Residents voiced concerns about just how cooperative an inter-agency design and construction process would actually be, voicing fears of “the New York two-step”—a city habit of fixing a street only to have another agency tear it up a few months later. “One [agency] doesn’t know what the other one is doing,” said Seaport resident Scott Rubman.

“We’re doing what we can,” Mauro responded. “It hurts me just as much as it hurts anyone else when someone comes in and tears things up on a project that I’ve done. It hurts a lot.”

Peck Slip has a long maritime history, and at Tuesday’s meeting, residents harked back to its seafaring history. A watery slip used by boats to dock until 1810, Peck Slip once offered George Washington and his troops protection as they fled from the Battle of Brooklyn. More recently, it was used as a fish market parking lot until the Fulton Fish Market relocated to the Bronx late last year.

In March, the Seaport Community Coalition and business owners held a symposium, Seaport Speaks, to discuss the future of the Seaport. A plan to transform Peck Slip into a piazza came out of that discussion.

The Seaport Community Coalition also decided it wanted to create a Local Development Corporation, under the auspices of the Economic Development Corporation, to keep tabs on the $150 million East River Waterfront redevelopment, which encompasses an area from Battery Park to East River Park, touching the eastern edge of several neighborhoods, including Seaport, Chinatown, the Financial District and the Lower East Side.

“We believed [the L.D.C.] should be its own entity to really create a vision, a plan, to really carry out the entire mission” of the East River Waterfront redevelopment, said Madelyn Wils, chairperson of the Governance Committee for Seaport Speaks, at a Civic Alliance panel discussion on Monday night about the East River Waterfront.

Wils, who is a member of the L.M.D.C.’s board of directors, chaired C.B. 1 when the city was developing its East River Waterfront plan. “The L.D.C. will program the East River Waterfront. It will be the entire entity that will create a life for the waterfront,” she said.

The waterfront redevelopment plan, developed by the E.D.C. and the Dept. of City Planning, includes ideas for a beachfront, pavilions beneath the F.D.R. Drive and a revived plaza in front of the historic Battery Maritime building.

Ultimately, the Downtown Alliance, a business improvement district that borders the waterfront, “will have to take over some of the maintenance” of the waterfront, Wils, an Alliance board member, said. The Alliance currently maintains parks in its district.

Maintaining a revived East River Waterfront would cost $5 million a year, Wils said. “We hope to get our heads around [the upkeep costs] this summer,” E.D.C. panelist Kelley told the audience.

Wils suggested using the proceeds from city-run parking lots and siphoning tax dollars generated at the Seaport mall to fund the East River park, a system that would require legislation in Albany. “Sydney has built underwater parking,” she said of a recent tour of the Australian city’s waterfront. “This is really where they get most of their revenue from—it may be something we ought to be looking at.”

Ronda@DowntownExpress.com


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