Volume 19 Issue 52 | May 11 -17, 2007

Newspaper’s vets recall the early ‘frontier’ days

By Josh Rogers

Meyer “Sandy” Frucher
Battery News president 1987–1988, B.P.C.A. president and C.E.O.,
1984 – 1988,

Frucher said he was thinking about the BBC when he decided to create Battery News in 1987. There were only a few residential buildings and offices in Battery Park City when he took over managing the neighborhood’s development, and he thought an independent newspaper was needed to encourage the community’s growth. He knew government support was the only way to make it happen.

“Do we put out a newsletter or do we create an independent newspaper,” Frucher said this month about the internal discussions at the Battery Park City Authority, a state agency. “It would have no serious credibility unless it was independent.”

He asked Robert Trentlyon, owner and publisher of Enlightenment Press, to run the newspaper.

Frucher said over time it became an “uncomfortable notion” to be involved with a newspaper and he and Trentlyon agreed to cut the ties in 1988.

Frucher is now chairman and C.E.O. of the Philadelphia Stock Exchange, which gives him reason to visit the Wall St. area and B.P.C. often. He said it’s to be expected the neighborhood’s development did not go exactly as the original plan predicted.

“The master plan didn’t have any playgrounds or children-related activities,” he said. Frucher said he made sure that was changed. But even in hindsight, Frucher still opposes the neighborhood’s most popular children’s amenity, the ballfields. Frucher said there are better ways to spend all of the money lost not developing that site.

“It’ll be almost as expensive over time as building a new Yankee Stadium,” he said. He thinks playing fields should have been built on river barges instead of on development sites.

Downtown Express closely followed the community fight with the authority to get temporary fields built in 1993 and have them declared permanent at the beginning of 2001.

Frucher recalls other neighborhood ideas he had – an ice skating rink and an aquarium.

He also was one of the key players to negotiate an agreement to use $1 billion of money generated in the neighborhood to build affordable housing around the city, another story line the Express has covered. For 18 years the money went into a general use fund and Frucher tried to get state and city officials to use the money as was intended.

“From the very beginning it was a breach of faith,” he said. “I was ecstatic Mayor Bloomberg restored it and I was sad it took so long.”

Robert Trentlyon
Publisher, 1987-1989, 1991- 1993

Like Sandy Frucher, Trentlyon said it was important that the paper be independent. Residents “were not a bunch of people who would read a newspaper that had no credibility,” Trentlyon said.

He recalled two stories that Frucher complained about – bad acoustics at the Winter Garden, and criticism of the Jennifer Bartlett design for the South Garden – but otherwise he said they were left alone. He said the paper did not change much when he began publishing without the authority’s involvement.

He was happy “Battery Park City” was not in the original name because he wanted the paper to cover all of Downtown.

“Lower Manhattan was almost a frontier as far as residents went,” he said. “There were some residents but no one was covering what was going on — no one was covering Community Board 1 until we stepped in.”

Jere Hester
Intern reporter, staff reporter, editor, 1987 - 1992

“Initially the focus was Battery Park City, which at that time was Gateway Plaza, the World Financial Center, a building here and there and a lot of plans and dreams,” Hester said.

Robert DeNiro was living in Tribeca but the neighborhood had not yet reached its level of “cachet,” Hester said. Residents had a pioneering spirit, he recalls, and they wondered, “where am I going to send my kids to school, where are the parks for my kids to play, where am I going to shop, where is a good deli — it was the beginnings of a small town….

“It was cool to be at the opening of the library, it was cool to be at the opening of P.S. 234 — they were all small, coming of age moments for Lower Manhattan.”

He recalls the paper “crusaded” for the library at Murray St. and organized a contest that led to naming it New Amsterdam. He’s proud that his reporting helped close a brothel on Hudson St. and that when he covered the opening of Trinity Church’s John Heuss homeless drop-in center, many of the clients told him they learned about the center from reading Downtown Express.

He’s amazed to see all of the parks and activity when he revisits Downtown, but it is also a bittersweet feeling because of 9/11. “But the rest of Lower Manhattan — when I take my daughter down there I say they wanted to put a wall up in this park but daddy wrote about it and they didn’t — journalists tend to overestimate their role, but I’d like to think I had something to do with it,” he said.

Hester left the Express for a reporting job at the Daily News, where he later became city editor. He’s now a professor at CUNY’s journalism graduate program.

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