Volume 20, Number 28 | The Newspaper of Lower Manhattan | November 23 - 30, 2007

Fulton water project drowns out business and sleep, Downtowners shout

By Julie Shapiro

At a rowdy meeting Monday evening, residents and business owners told city agencies exactly how they feel about the Fulton St. reconstruction project — and they’re not happy.

“We’re getting killed down here,” one resident called out as the speakers introduced themselves.

City representatives gave updates on the progress of Fulton St. at the second community stakeholders meeting. The project, which requires tearing up pavement and shutting off water, will replace a 150-year-old water main, along with other utilities.

The noisy, messy construction is fatal to the tourist traffic that keeps
local businesses thriving, owners said.

“It’s a nightmare,” Antonietta Caruso, co-owner of Caruso’s Pizza & Pasta at 140 Fulton St., said in a telephone interview. “People are not walking down the streets.” To recover some business, Caruso hopes to build up the restaurant’s delivery orders.

“It’s like a war zone down here,” Caruso said.

The noise that keeps customers away also keeps residents from sleeping at night. Some jackhammer and sawing work, which cannot be done during weekday business hours, requires water shutoffs.

“We prefer sleep over water,” one resident said at the meeting, approving of the recent shift of some night work to weekends. “It’s an inconvenience [to not have water over the weekend] but it’s a lot better than not getting any sleep.”

To mitigate the noise, contractors have fitted their jackhammers with mufflers and are ordering a noise suppression tent, said Thomas Foley, from the city Department of Design and Construction.

A resident of Gold and Fulton Sts. said that the noise has improved over the past month, and asked for a round of applause for Foley. He received a tepid response.

Problems with garbage collection sparked the most tension at the meeting. Louis, a resident of Fulton and Gold Sts. who declined to give his last name, watched a pile of garbage on his corner grow from 3 feet by 5 feet last Thursday to 5 feet by 10 feet Monday evening. His repeated calls to the Sanitation Department went unheeded.

“I pay $2,500 a month and that’s what I have to see?” he said.
When Foley replied that the city Dept. of Design and Construction is not responsible for sanitation, other attendees got angry.

“But you want to be doing this million-dollar project,” one said. “It’s not our job to call sanitation.”

As city representatives started to respond, Louis interrupted them: “You think it’ll be clean tomorrow?”

Several people began shouting over one another, as Sayar Lonial, from Councilmember Alan Gerson’s office, tried to keep everyone in order.
In the midst of the screaming, Gerson himself walked in.

“That’s outrageous,” he said when told of the garbage pileup.

He calmed the small but loud crowd of about two dozen and promised to find a way to remove the garbage. The issue is complicated because the Sanitation Department does not collect garbage from private businesses. Each business is supposed to contract with a private collector, but many of these collectors are unable or unwilling to navigate the narrow, construction-blocked streets.

Early Tuesday afternoon, the garbage was still piled outside Louis’s window, and he wasn’t happy, calling the previous night’s meeting “a joke.”

Another issue is the traffic caused by multiple street closures.

John Fratta, chairperson of the Community Board 1 Seaport Committee, said the traffic isn’t just an annoyance — it’s also a hazard. With all the street closures, it recently took him an hour to get from Fulton and Gold Sts. to the West Side. While he was stuck on Broadway for 15 minutes, an ambulance was stopped behind him, unable to move.

“That person died, whoever he was,” Fratta said half kiddingly. “We have a serious problem.”

Other attendees were also concerned about ambulance access to New York Downtown Hospital, and said that cars and trucks are often double- or triple-parked along the curb.

“The neighborhood looks like a dump,” said Ann DeFalco, a Southbridge Towers resident who works at Pace University. She complained that potentially dangerous wires were left uncovered. Most disturbing, Pace recently had a fire in its kitchen, and fire trucks could not get down Spruce St. because of all the cars backed up due to construction, she said.

“We need to find a way to keep that open,” DeFalco said. “Do we have enforcement?”

Foley replied that he has met with the fire department and added that there are traffic agents from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. at five intersections: Church and Fulton; Broadway and Fulton; Gold and Beekman; Gold and Fulton; and Vesey and Broadway.

Fratta asked if there were any plans to enforce laws against street peddlers on Fulton St., who add to the sidewalk congestion. His question elicited several “Yeah”s from the audience, but Lonial cut the discussion short, saying that the meeting’s focus was on the reconstruction project, not on vendors.

“But we can’t walk!” someone called from the back of the audience.
“We’re very much aware of the challenges and difficulties we’ve been having,” said Josh Kraus, from the Department of Transportation. Each project requires a period of adjustment, he said, but in the meantime, “We’re going to keep our eyes peeled, and we appreciate your patience.”
Several other people complained about the cramped, narrow sidewalks.
“There’s nowhere to walk,” said a resident of 33 Gold St. “It takes 10 minutes to walk three blocks.”

Meriam Lobel, who lives on South St., has had similar problems.

“It’s difficult to go down the street at a New York pace,” she said. When she walks down Fulton St., she is squeezed into a narrow passageway between the construction and a wall. “It’s very isolating,” Lobel said, adding that the closed-in space feels dangerous at night.

Another attendee also criticized the dark passageways and suggested lights. “It can’t be too hard to put up a lot of lights,” he said. “For all the money being spent, you’d think at the very least we can get some lights.”
Foley is looking into installing temporary lights, but added that the generators that run them will make a lot of noise.

Before fielding the many questions from attendees, city representatives presented the recent progress on construction.

Water main work is complete at DeLury Square and on Fulton St. between Broadway and Nassau St., Foley said. Now, workers are updating other utilities in those areas, and will be finished by March.

On Fulton St. from Gold St. to William St., water main work is 80 percent complete, Foley said. All subsurface work there is scheduled to be done by June 2009. Additionally, work at Church and Vesey Sts. was completed ahead of schedule.

Of the 3,000 feet of water main to be installed, approximately 1,900 feet are complete.

Construction at Church and Fulton Sts. and the middle of the Broadway and Fulton St. intersection will begin in January, Foley said. There will be no construction between Dec. 24 and Jan. 10.

The Fulton St. project is so complicated because the construction of the Fulton Transit Center is going on at the same time, an occurrence that is “unique and uniquely challenging,” Kraus said. The Transit Center work includes the replacement of ducts along Fulton, which power the subway and are several decades old. The ducts are significantly below the other utilities, which adds an “additional level of difficulty,” Kraus said.
Seth Myers, from the Economic Development Corporation, urged the audience to look at the larger picture.

“Keep in mind all the good things that will come out of this,” he said.
Myers listed four new or refurbished open spaces: DeLury Square, Pearl St. Playground, Titanic Park and Burling Slip. He also mentioned voluntary storefront and facade improvements, along with Downtown Alliance-funded streetscape additions, including new streetlights and street furniture.
The last person to speak at the meeting was Adam Alvarez, owner of Pride Optical on William St. between Ann and Fulton Sts. He said most pedestrians stay away to avoid the construction.

“The foot traffic has changed its mind,” Alvarez said, adding that he has not been notified about street closures. Sometimes, he would plan a special event, hire extra staff and order hundreds of dollars worth of balloons, only to find the street closed and be forced to cancel the event.

While officials debated whether he was being affected by the Fulton St. project or another project, Alvarez had only one question to ask: Who would repay him for his monetary losses?

For the first time, the meeting room fell completely silent.

After several moments, a representative from the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation mentioned the Small Firm Assistance Program, designed to help businesses affected by construction. The program would pay businesses $2.50 per square foot per month affected, up to $25,000, according to the Web site. The L.M.D.C. is finalizing the program’s guidelines, and will likely begin accepting applications early next year, said A.J. Carter, spokesperson for the Empire State Development Corporation, the L.M.D.C.’s parent agency.

Several business owners had never heard of the program, which the L.M.D.C. proposed in the summer, but an L.M.D.C. representative at the meeting encouraged them to submit applications when the time comes.

As people filed out of the meeting, Alvarez was cautiously optimistic.
“We discussed as much as we could tonight,” Alvarez said. “I’m going to give them an opportunity [to make changes].”

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