Volume 19 • Issue 13 | August 11 - 17, 2006

Under Cover

Garden variety

Is a garden still pretty if its creator disagrees?

Landscape Architect Thomas Balsley created the public plaza that adorns the Citigroup’s Greenwich St. headquarters back when Shearson Lehman Brothers owned the 39-story building. Today, the twin plazas at the tower commonly known as the Red Umbrella building are a far cry from the bucolic wonder Balsley intended them to be, he told UnderCover.

“I’m really upset with the quality of that space that I’ve seen lately. They just haven’t taken care of it,” lamented Balsley, who’s currently at work on a private garden for the residents of 101 Warren St., a few blocks south. “It was supposed to be a lush garden of perennials and color.”

The plaza is owned and maintained by Citigroup, but open to the public and considered a public amenity. The company also maintains a second plaza in the rear of the building, facing West St.

“If the public ever wanted to pick up a banner and fight for that space, they could,” said Balsley.

He might have picked the right ’hood. Tribeca is a neighborhood known for its feisty activists — some of whom took the city to court to force them to restore a park on Canal and West Sts. But even the most vocal among them was unaware of the state of the Citigroup plaza.

“Maybe we need to start looking in our neighborhood and claiming more property,” mused Tribeca Community Association president Carole De Saram. “Maybe we should set up a Parks Belong to the People Committee and go scouting around the neighborhood and see who’s living up to these agreements.”

UnderCover recently ventured over to the Red Umbrella building—which might not have its umbrella much longer, if Citigroup scraps its unsightly logo—and ate her lunch there. She was not alone. Office workers sprawled on benches adorned with blooming flowers. Two toddlers padded across the green grass beneath the shade of large, overhanging trees and several passersby ducked into the lush space for a brief respite from the summer heat. If this is a state of disrepair, we can hardly imagine what Eden might look like.

The second plaza, a grassy knoll facing West St., was another story entirely. The plaza was empty of people and devoid of shade. The small patch of brown grass boasted a lone sign that read: “Children Play Here. Curb Your Dog.”

The next W.T.C. crisis?

Officials may be worrying about whether the Port Authority and World Trade Center developer Larry Silverstein will be able to finalize their general agreement to rebuild the site by the Sept. 20 signing deadline. Gov. George Pataki and Dep. Mayor Dan Doctoroff did not shy away from taking pops at Silverstein a few weeks ago when they thought he reneged on his deal for a Chinese trade group to move into 7 W.T.C.

Add to that recent comments by Carl Weisbrod, a Lower Manhattan Development Corporation board member and the head of Trinity Church’s real estate department. Weisbrod was rattling off a list of projects showing progress at the site in recent months. He said he was happy there were decisions made on office buildings and retail at Towers 2, 3, and 4, but he made no mention of the Freedom Tower, where there is actual construction underway. It wasn’t an oversight.

“We’re still waiting for leases to be signed for the Freedom Tower,” he told UnderCover.

The Port won’t take responsibility for the Freedom Tower from Silverstein unless Pataki comes up with 1 million square feet of government tenants for the hard-to-rent building and the deadline is fast approaching. Stay tuned.

No hotel parking

“Hey, parking lot — you’re fiyahed!” Donald Trump is wasting no time throwing up a new hotel on Varick and Spring Sts. We noticed last week that he emptied the parking lot site of the condo-hotel, Trump Soho Hotel Condominiums New York. Now all he has to do is convince the city it’ll really be a hotel.


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