Volume 22, Number 34 | The Newspaper of Lower Manhattan | January 1 - 7, 2010

Traffic going by P.S. 234, one of five school buildings near the construction area. Right: The Chambers St. work will go from West St. to Broadway. (Downtown Express photos by Julie Shapiro)

Downtown’s next ground zero of construction: Chambers St.

By Julie Shapiro

Chambers St. may be the next Fulton St.

Starting perhaps as soon as April, the jackhammers, dust and water shutdowns that have plagued Fulton St. for the past two-and-a-half years will be heading north and west. Just like on Fulton St., the impetus for the Chambers St. project is a crumbling water main that needs to be replaced.

The three-year, $24.5 million project will tear up Chambers St. between West St. and Broadway. In addition to replacing a water main from the 1880s, the city will also upgrade utilities and sewers and add improved street finishes like pigmented sidewalks, granite curbs and new streetlights, said Craig Chin, spokesperson for the city Dept. of Design and Construction.

Many of the businesses on Chambers St. had not heard of the project — though one said, “They’ve been saying that [the project would start] for seven years” — and they were not pleased when told about it. On Fulton St., plywood barricades have made it impossible for pedestrians to see across the street and discourage them from lingering to shop.

“It’s going to kill us,” said Izik Pinkhasoe, a manager at Ray’s Barber Shop on Chambers St. between Church St. and W. Broadway.

The shop looked crowded at lunchtime on a recent weekday, but Pinkhasoe said business has dropped 60 percent in the past year, as layoffs mean fewer people working in the neighborhood. Pinkhasoe suggested that the city do the bulk of the water main work at night and on weekends, so as not to disrupt businesses.

“This is more of an office area,” he said.

As on Fulton St., the city will likely balance water shutoffs and other inconveniences between the needs of residents and business owners, whose desires often conflict. Doing the work entirely during off-peak hours would make the project take much longer, and some business owners said the city should do the work as quickly as possible to get it over with.

But Mark Mozaffari, owner of the Trilogy Photo Lab on the same block as Ray’s, also said the city should work mostly at night and on the weekends — even though he lives above his store and would have to deal with the noise.

“As long as they leave my business running, it’s okay,” Mozaffari said.

Some small businesses on Chambers St. will be able to apply for the Lower Manhattan Development Corp.’s Small Firm Assistance Program, which offers grants of up to $25,000 to businesses with 50 or fewer employees on streets closed by construction. However, the L.M.D.C.’s $5 million program is slated to last only through the end of 2010, while the Chambers St. work will continue into 2013.

In addition to affecting local businesses, the project will likely snarl traffic in Lower Manhattan’s already crowded streets. Chambers St. is a key east-west connector for cars traveling between the West Side Highway and the Brooklyn Bridge, and two buses run along parts of Chambers St. as well. The street is also home to the Tweed Courthouse incubator schools, Stuyvesant High School and the Borough of Manhattan Community College. Especially during rush hour, the sidewalks are crowded with people rushing to work, parents pushing strollers and tourists stopping to look at maps.

The city has not formulated a detour plan yet, but they will present one to Community Board 1 early in 2010, the city Dept. of Transportation said. A spokesperson for the Lower Manhattan Construction Command Center said the agency would get involved later if D.O.T. and D.D.C. requested help.

Downtown will get a first taste of what the construction will be like in January, when New York State’s Dept. of Transportation does its own 12-week water main project on Chambers St.

As part of the larger Route 9A project, state D.O.T. is installing a water main at Chambers and West Sts. and is working on the crosswalk there, said Adam Levine, spokesperson for state D.O.T. That work will only affect the block of Chambers St. between West and Greenwich Sts.

While that block of Chambers will be narrowed during the work, state D.O.T. hopes to keep two-way traffic flowing, said Bob Townley, a C.B. 1 member who attended a meeting on the project. If the street has to be made one-way, it will run westbound. In that case, the detour for cars traveling south on West St. would be to take a left on Canal St. and a quick right onto Greenwich St., then to travel back down to Chambers St. to head east, Townley said.

Levine did not confirm details of the plan, but state D.O.T. is making a presentation to C.B. 1’s Tribeca Committee Jan. 13.

The state D.O.T. project was originally slated to start Jan. 4 and end by the beginning of April, when the city work would start. But the state has delayed its start date to do more community notification, which could push back the start of the city’s work as well.

Townley, who is also executive director of Manhattan Youth, wants to make sure that Warren St., one block south of Chambers, is not used as a detour during either the state’s brief project or the city’s longer one. Many young children travel on Warren St. to get to Manhattan Youth’s Downtown Community Center, as well as P.S. 234 and P.S. 89, where the group runs after-school programs.

“I don’t envy their task,” Townley said of the detour planners. “It’s going to be interesting.”

Michael Connolly, vice chairperson of C.B. 1’s Tribeca Committee, said that as long as the Chambers St. work was done in the most efficient way possible, he had no objections. To prevent businesses on Chambers St. from losing money, he suggested that the city replace any parking spaces that are lost during construction.

Some small business owners on Chambers St. were unconcerned about the construction, which they saw as just more of the same.

Steve Stoppert, one of the owners of Tribeca Hardware, said the street in front of his shop was torn up three times in the past few months, as different contractors went in to fix mistakes that others had made. Construction won’t stop regular customers from stopping by for a nut or a bolt, Stoppert said.

“We don’t make much money, and we don’t care to make much money,” he said with a laugh.



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