Volume 19 Issue 35 | January 12 - 18, 2007

C.B. 1, youth leagues cheer new W. Thames design

Downtown Express photo by Skye H. McFarlane
Model of the new design for the West Thames Park lawn near the Rector St. pedestrian bridge is larger and shaped more like a playing field than the previous proposal.

By Skye H. McFarlane

Though canine advocates were still howling over the design of a new dog run, Battery Park City’s ballplayers, pedestrians and gardeners gave their rousing approval Tuesday night to a new set of plans for West Thames Park.

After months of debate and protest, Community Board 1’s Battery Park City Committee passed a resolution supporting the latest vision for the area surrounding the Rector St. bridge. The compromise plan — put together by the New York State Department of Transportation, the Battery Park City Authority and SHoP Architects, with copious community input — will allow B.P.C. residents to have their cake and eat it, too, preserving the pedestrian bridge and a promenade walkway, but also providing basketball courts, community gardens and a full-size West Thames lawn.

The park is a segment of state D.O.T.’s Route 9A Project, a multi-year plan to revamp West St. and its adjacent walkways from Chambers St. down to Battery Park.

The area became the focus of community ire two months ago, when the D.O.T. revealed that keeping the Rector St. bridge up would mean sacrificing the basketball courts and gardens planned for the block beneath the bridge. The bridge’s ramp conflicts with the D.O.T.’s approved plan for the site. Anger flared again two weeks later, when it came to light that the D.O.T.’s planned promenade along West St. would take a sizable bite out of the West Thames lawn, a small grassy trapezoid that is heavily used by the local youth sports leagues.

The plan presented Tuesday appeared to solve both problems. To provide the two half-court basketball courts and 50 community garden plots while keeping the bridge and its ramp intact, the designers made several modifications. One court will be shrunk from regulation to Junior High size. A seating area to the north of the gardens will be eliminated and the bridge’s ramp will be straightened, narrowed slightly and have its understructure streamlined to eliminate bulk.

As for the lawn, the state D.O.T. utilized a suggestion from Downtown Little League president Mark Costello to trim down the tree barriers between the promenade and the lawn, thus providing more lawn space. The D.O.T. not only cut five feet out of the tree barrier, it also took two more feet out of the promenade, an adjustment once said to be impossible (the granite promenade was a pet project of Governor George Pataki, whose term expired this month). As a result, the lawn will retain the square footage it has now. It will also be flatter and more rectangular, making it easier to play sports in the space. The current lawn tapers from 71 feet wide at the southern end to 57 feet wide in the north.

“I’m much more sanguine tonight than I was last month and I’d like to congratulate you,” B.P.C. Committee chairperson Linda Belfer told the authority and the D.O.T. upon seeing the plans.

The long-term plan is to build a pedestrian bridge elsewhere in the south neighborhood. If and when that happens, the Rector St. bridge would come down and the B.P.C.A. would reconstruct the basketball courts and gardens using the original, more expansive plans.

Erected after 9/11, the Rector St. bridge was always intended as a temporary solution to help residents cross West St. The bridge will be reduced to one tube and revamped to last as long as another 10 years. As a part of the redesign, SHoP Architects are also confident that they will be able to install a true elevator on the east end of the bridge. That news, revealed Tuesday night, came as a great relief to community members with limited mobility or strollers to push. The current “man lift” is notorious for breaking down and being difficult to operate.

“I applaud you. Thank you,” Belfer, who travels in a wheelchair, told the architects.

The only community members who were not pleased by Tuesday’s compromise were area dog owners, who said that the D.O.T.’s revised plan for a permanent dog run south of West Thames St. — which would shrink the current, temporary run by 100 square feet to add plantings and a water feature — was still too small to accommodate the local dog community.

“The dog people always get the short end of the stick,” exclaimed a frustrated Paula Galloway of the Battery Park City Dogs Association.

Because of the size complaints, as well as issues about dog run surface, fencing and setup, the D.O.T. agreed to form a “working group” with local dog owners to hammer out the specifics of the run.

Pleased with the compromises that had been reached, the normally plainspoken Leticia Remauro of the B.P.C.A. gushed, “It was a labor of love.”

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