Volume 23, Number 4 | The Newspaper of Lower Manhattan | June 4 - 10, 2010
Local pols pushing for Park Row re-opening
BY Aline Reynolds
Paul J.Q. Lee, owner of a general store at 32 Mott Street for some 30 years, closed up shop shortly after 9/11. His family had kept the business going for 113 years but couldn’t survive the sharp drop in clientele once the NYPD began barricading streets that connected the shop to the heart of Chinatown.
“The closure of the Park Row thoroughfare destroyed us,” he said. “Suddenly, we had no deliveries or customers coming in.”
Lee’s grandfather emigrated to New York in the 1800s and founded Quong Yuen Shin & Co. The Lee family ran the store for generations, with Paul taking it over in the 1970s.
Park Row was once a four-lane thoroughfare that ran through Chinatown, linking the Brooklyn Bridge with the Financial District. The NYPD, whose headquarters are at One Police Plaza, closed the nearby Park Row just after 9/11 for security reasons. Today, only certain MTA buses and authorized or emergency vehicles are allowed to pass through security posts on both sides of the thoroughfare.
“It feels like you’re in a war zone. It’s oppressive,” John Ost said, who serves on the Board of Directors of Southbridge Towers, a nearby 1,651-unit co-op.
After nearly a decade of community activists’ unsuccessful pleas to NYPD to reopen Park Row, elected officials are now turning to Washington for help.
Chinatown businesses and residents say that their neighborhood, once a booming cultural hub and tourist attraction, has been compromised due to the high security measures enforced since 9/11, particularly the closure of Park Row.
“Local businesses have suffered because this important link between Chinatown and the Financial District has been cut off, isolating neighborhoods,” said New York State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver in a June 1 statement. “It is time to give our neighborhood its street back.”
Silver sent a letter in March to U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, asking him to reach out to the Department of Homeland Security about conducting a risk assessment that would help determine how the NYPD can safely reopen Park Row.
The letter was also signed by U.S. Representative Jerrold Nadler, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, State Senator Daniel Squadron (D-Manhattan/Brooklyn) and City Councilmember Margaret Chin (D-Manhattan).
According to a May 26 news release issued by Silver’s office, Secretary LaHood has promised to approach the DHS about the risk assessment. The U.S. Department of Transportation had no updates this week on LaHood’s communications with the DHS.
“Let the assessment be done to determine exactly what the risks are, and then we can decide what we need to do to ensure security,” said Robert Gottheim, District Director for Congressman Jerrold Nadler, who represents the city’s 8th District.
Gottheim and others wonder, in particular, why streets near the Downtown government courthouses and City Hall are not blocked off, yet the NYPD insists that Park Row remain shut off from traffic.
“It doesn’t make any sense on its face,” said David Crane, Chair of CB 3’s Transportation Committee. “Following that logic, why doesn’t Broadway warrant closure? There are as many potential targets along Broadway as on Park Row.”
Closing Park Row has blocked off a direct northbound passage through Chinatown to the Bowery and southbound to Wall Street. “Its closure forced 500 to 1,000 vehicles an hour to be diverted to alternate routes that were pretty much near capacity at the time,” Ketcham said.
The closure has also affected Chinatown’s revenue. Over fifty businesses in Chinatown have closed since 2001, according to Jan Lee, a member of the Civic Center Residents Coalition New York City. The Center was formed shortly after 9/11 and has been at the forefront of protests against the closure of Park Row and other area streets.
Lee (no relation to Paul Lee) is a third-generation New Yorker whose family owns real estate in the area. Jan Lee owned Sinotique, a home furnishing business, for 17 years. When profits dropped by 70%, Lee was forced to move his store to Brooklyn last year. “It’s devastating—I have always wanted to remain in Chinatown,” he said.
The lack of a crucial four-lane highway has also closed off a major source of revenue for Chinatown restaurants. “The Wall Street folks would have lunch or dinner in Chinatown and go back to work,” said Lee.
Cabs coming from the Financial District are diverted to Water Street or St. James Place. The journey, about a mile long, can take 10 or 15 minutes during traffic hours, enough to dissuade Financial District workers from scheduling lunch meetings in Chinatown.
They could walk to Chinatown via Park Row, but the thoroughfare’s pedestrian entrances are “really intimidating,” said Crane, who has occasionally walked along the thoroughfare. “There are huge security checkpoints. People tend to just turn around and walk in the other direction.”
Park Row isn’t the only street that no longer welcomes vehicles. Other streets that the Department of Transportation have closed off for security reasons include Pearl Street, once an important East-West artery that bypassed the congested Chatham Square, and parts of Madison Street and Avenue of the Finest.
The Lower Manhattan community has legally challenged the NYPD for not properly reviewing the area before going ahead with security measures and development plans. In 2004, Chatham Towers won a suit against the City that resulted in an environmental impact statement of the NYPD Headquarters area, where barricades were installed following the 9/11 attacks. The statement reported that reduced traffic flow in the area had isolated the Civic Center area but that security measures are necessary to protect the neighborhood’s potential targets.
But community members wonder whether Park Row actually endangers NYPD Headquarters at all. New York City engineer Brian Ketcham, who has been studying traffic patterns in the area for the City Department of Transportation, said that is very unlikely that NYPD headquarters at One Police Plaza would be damaged in the event of an attack originating on Park Row.
Ketcham said that tall barriers of iron and concrete surrounding NYPD headquarters would sufficiently protect the building.
“They could contain anything, short of a nuclear bomb,” he said.
The NYPD did not comment on this statement.
Other hotly debated issues include the ongoing construction of a large anti-terrorist and crime-command center, which community members insist needs environmental review, and the redesign of Chatham Square, which would provide green areas but might drive a death nail into the much-desired reopening of Park Row.