Volume 16 • Issue 25 |November 18 - 24, 2003



Paving the PATH’s way

By Josh Rogers

Downtown Express photo by Brett C Vermilyea

The entrance to the W.T.C. PATH on Church St.

Over 60,000 commuters used to come into the World Trade Center’s PATH station twice a day and many Downtowners see the reopening this Sunday – just two years after it was destroyed – as the economic and psychological lift Lower Manhattan desperatley needs.

“The PATH reopening is everything,” said Valerie Lewis, vice president of marketing for the Downtown Alliance, which runs Lower Manhattan’s business district. “It is so important on so many different levels. It’s going to reopen a major artery. It is also extraordinarily symbolic as a major step in the rebuilding process.”

Several changes will coincide with the opening of the $500 million temporary station on Nov. 23. The large ferry terminal barge at Battery Park’s Pier A, which opened in the fall of 2001 to accommodate PATH commuters, will close at the end of November, although Port Authority officials think it won’t be until early in 2004 that the barge is removed and park views of the harbor are restored. The Vesey St. pedestrian bridge across West St. is scheduled to open Nov. 22. The struggling W.T.C. Greenmarket will move around the corner from its temporary location in Liberty Plaza to a site to be determined on Church St. The Downtown Alliance, with a $120,000 grant from the Lower Manhattan Development Corp., will begin running a Downtown Rebuilding Information Center kiosk outside the station entrance on the PATH’s opening day.

Greg Trevor, a Port Authority spokesperson, said the major work on the station is done and now contractors are testing and retesting electrical equipment such as turnstiles. The station, which will still be called World Trade Center, will be outside but there will be protection from the rain. The tunnels to the nearby A,C,E and N,R stations will reopen. The P.A. hopes to begin construction on a permanent transportation center at the site at the end of next year or early 2005.

Lewis said many small business owners have told her they “are holding on for the PATH opening. …People will stay in Lower Manhattan more often and people will come to Lower Manhattan more often.”

Nathan Baker, a bartender at Church & Dey, across the street from the W.T.C. site in the Millenium Hotel, said the reopening will help him personally as well as professionally. Baker returned to the hotel when it reopened in May and he said his commute practically doubled to 90 minutes because he has to take a subway from the Village after driving to the PATH from his home in Harrison, N.J. When he gets off work at midnight, he and a co-worker often splurge for a cab rather than wait for trains in the wee hours.

With the bar’s third-floor window overlooking the site, Baker has become well-versed in the rebuilding plans. Asked what he liked about them, he did mention Daniel Libeskind’s 1776-foot Freedom Tower with a glass atrium, but not before the most important thing.

“I’m liking the train station being open,” he said. “I like the glass spire. It’s nice having the tallest building in the world.”

Most of Baker’s customers are tourists and business travelers staying in the hotel, and he hopes the commuter station coming back will mean Jersey commuters will be inclined to drop in for a quick cocktail before descending down the station escalators across the street.

In preparation for the reopening, Baker came up with the ingredients for the bar’s newest hot toddy, the PATHfinder (Patron tequila, apple brandy, triple sec, and hard cider).

Baker said when he first returned to the hotel, he quickly grew tired of telling people where he was when the planes hit (New Jersey) and what the rebuilding plans are.

“The first couple of days it started to weigh on me,” he said after mixing a drink. “Then I realized that if you’re going to work here, people want to know about it.”

Now he keeps pictures of the Libeskind plan behind the bar to help him explain it to anyone who is interested.

Toward that end, the L.M.D.C. board voted to pay for the Alliance’s information kiosk near the PATH entrance. Lewis said the 10-foot by 10-foot center will have a large map of Downtown’s curving streets on the back, small handout maps, as well as information about other points of interest.

She said that the goal is to provide information to commuters as well as the hordes of visitors who come to Church St. to look at ground zero. “A lot of people are coming to the site and are not getting a full picture of what’s going on Downtown,” she said.

A Port Authority official said a few weeks ago that it is likely some tourists will pay the $1.50 fare to get a closer look at the site, but the station does have decorations intended to block some of the views.

The kiosk will be staffed with two people from 10 a.m. – 6 p.m. Mon. –Sat. and 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. on Sundays, Lewis said.


Ferry changes

Probably no business Downtown grew by as much after 9/11 as New York Waterway, which was the only convenient alternative to the PATH. The Port Authority quickly built the ferry barge on Pier A and worked with the federal government to secure grants so Waterway could lease boats and offer new routes at a guaranteed profit rate.

Arthur Imperatore, Jr., Waterway president, said last week he expected business on its Lower Manhattan routes to drop by 10 – 25 percent when the PATH reopens. He thinks business will level off at a point higher than where the firm was before the attack, and that a return to steady growth would be welcome. In mid-2001, Waterway served the equivalent of 16,000 round trip riders. The number is now at about 30,000 and Imperatore expects it to go between 22,000 and 25,000 next month.

“We literally saw a doubling in size in about six weeks,” Imperatore said last week in a telephone interview. “You can’t build ferries that quickly. We had a motley fleet with mismatched vessels.”

Imperatore said many of the leased ferries were not designed for the river and exacerbated the wake and pollution problems that boaters and residents have been complaining about for years. He said Waterway has returned most of its leased boats.

“I think even our most vocal critics will acknowledge the wake problem has been substantially reduced in recent weeks,” Imperatore said.

Michael Fortenbaugh, who runs the sailing club in Battery Park City’s North Cove, said now that Waterway is no longer using “whale-watcher” boats designed for the ocean, the waves that damage docked vessels are less, but too many Waterway captains drive too fast, and more improvement is needed.

“It’s not where it needs to be now,” he said. “Compared to where it was a year ago, the wakes are less.”

As for the PATH opening, Fortenbaugh said it will make it much easier for his mother to visit his family in Battery Park City, and he intends to use both the trains and Waterway to visit various places in New Jersey.

“The PATH was a great convenience,” said Fortenbaugh. “All of us are excited it’s back.”

Imperatore said he is continuing to convert his vessels to less-polluting engines because it saves him money in the long run and it also reduces the pollution in places like Rockefeller Park. He said by the middle of next year, enough boats would be converted to insure that the dirtier boats can avoid B.P.C. and the entire fleet will be converted by the end of next year.

Waterway is also planning a series of discounts and promotions in December to keep more riders, including three monthly passes for the price of two.

Imperatore said all of the routes currently going to Pier A, will start going to Pier 11 near Wall St. starting in December.

Steve Coleman, a P.A. spokesperson, said the agency will look for a contractor to remove the Pier A barge in December and “it probably won’t be [removed] until early next year.”

It won’t come soon enough for Pat Kirshner, director of operations at the Battery Conservancy. She can’t wait to get the harbor views back. “People wouldn’t complain because they didn’t know what they were missing, but we knew what they were missing,” said Kirshner.

She said in August 2001, the conservancy finished renovating the upper promenade and the benches near Pier A quickly became her favorite lunch spot. “I would sit out on one of those benches and looked out to the sea,” she said.


Greenmarket

When Gov. George Pataki announced a few weeks ago that the last PATH cars to leave the W.T.C. on the morning of 9/11 would return Nov. 23, he said the Greenmarket would return with it. Prior to the announcement, Port Authority officials were skeptical that there would be enough space on Church St. for the market.

Tom Strumolo, deputy director of the market, said several sites are under discussion with the L.M.D.C. and Port Authority, and no final decision has been made. He said the farmers, who first came to the W.T.C. in 1984, would be able to return to their regular Tuesday and Thursday schedule and could probably set up shop the first Sunday, if that’s what officials ask.

He said many of the farmers have not been making money this year at Liberty Plaza. He said the help the market gets from the PATH will also help other businesses in the neighborhood. “It boosts the Greenmarket, which in turn boosts Century 21,” said Strumolo.

Gary Samascott, who was trying to sell apples and donuts last Thursday, said there were only five farmer stands last week because business was bad. “People have been dropping off,” he said. “We really haven’t gotten the foot traffic.”

Will the PATH make a difference?

“We’re hoping,” Samascott said.

Josh@DowntownExpress.com


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