Volume 17 • Issue 20 | October 08 - 14, 2004



Richard Rogers Partnership/ SHoP Architects/ Ken Smith Landscape Architect. 

Rendering of a plan to convert the Peck Slip parking lot used by Fulton Fish Market trucks into a plaza with a reflecting pool by Richard Rogers Partnership, SHoP Architects and Ken Smith Landscape Architect. 

City floats tower-park idea for the East River

By Josh Rogers

After a half century or so of new East Side waterfront plans, city officials think they may have an idea that won’t end up with all of the others – that is, sleeping with the East River fishes. They are now considering building seven apartment towers over the F.D.R. Drive to pay for an additional 12 acres of park space in Lower Manhattan.

The plan also includes creating the “Champs Elysées of the Lower East Side,” building a pedestrian-cycling ramp connecting Battery Park to the East River, building new park spaces on Peck Slip and Pier 15 near the Seaport, and adding pavilion spaces under the F.D.R. for things like cafes, studios, cultural spaces, and community centers. This part of the plan would not require the towers and could be completed in phases over the next three to five years. It is expected to cost at least $100 million and be paid for mostly with federal, post-9/11 money administered by the Lower Manhattan Development Corp.

Amanda Burden, chairperson of the City Planning Commission, told Downtown Express that she was hopeful the L.M.D.C. board would authorize the money by the end of the year.

The tower plan is considered a longer-term project. Up to seven narrow towers, perhaps as tall as 400 feet, would rise from the street through the center of the elevated F.D.R. The apartments could generate several hundred million dollars of revenue needed to build and maintain about 12 acres of new park space over the river. Even though the slips would cover more of the water than the traditional piers in the Hudson River Park, city consultants say they would be designed to be friendly to marine life and the slips would have fewer structures in the river than piers. The State Dept. of Environmental Conservation and the Army Corps of Engineers have long been reluctant to approve projects that involve rebuilding or repairing piers because of the effects to fish.

The buildings would cover a six-block area and be near Old Slip, Gouverneur La., Wall St., Pine St. and Maiden La. They would line up with the streets to create clear access to the river, and protect whatever river view corridors exist in spite of the elevated roadway.

The seven proposed buildings combined, would be a maximum of about 1 million square feet. City officials, who presented the plan to a Community Board 1 committee Wednesday, said they were open to building fewer or smaller buildings, but that would also mean the new park space would be reduced. They believe they can finance two square feet of park space for every three square feet of apartment space, although detailed financial plans with various options are still being studied.

Michael Davies, a director of Richard Rogers Partnership, a British architectural firm working on the project, said the plan would help New York catch up to other cities by making better use of its rivers.

“The waterfront is way below the stature of this great city,” Davies told C.B. 1 members. “[This will] turn it into the front yard for Downtown.”

Some nearby building owners and their representatives are beginning to react negatively to the tower part of the plan, concerned about the loss of river views and the effects to the F.D.R., which would be reduced by one or two lanes.

“To me the drive is an asset,” Harry Bridgwood, who manages the massive office building at 55 Water St., said in a telephone interview. He said prospective commercial tenants typically want to make sure that black car limousines will be able to get to and from the building quickly. Condo owners at 3 Hanover Sq., who opposed a proposal several years ago to build a trading floor office tower on 55 Water St. on an elevated plaza, may also raise objections.

Many people at the meeting reacted favorably to the general park aspects of the plan, while objecting to some of the specifics.

Randy Polumbo, who lives and works in the Seaport, said he has to constantly clean his windows because of car fumes from the highway.

“We don’t really have a view corridor, we have an F.D.R. corridor,” said Polumbo. “The F.D.R. is so ugly. I feel like you are threading this large intestine through this jewel.”

Polumbo, who owns his building, said he thought the roadway should be taken down altogether. He went on to say that if Lower Manhattan had “to sell its soul” to accept more large buildings, it is important to make sure the buildings are architecturally significant and that some of the grit of the historic Seaport neighborhood be preserved when the Fulton Fish Market leaves toward the beginning of next year.

City Planning’s Burden told Polumbo: “I loved what you said.”

As for taking down the F.D.R., consultants did consider it but decided not to do it because it would have required an eight-lane, street-level roadway. The Downtown Alliance and C.B. 1 did a joint study of the area several years ago and concluded that the F.D.R. should not be taken down and the area underneath could be used for pavilions similar to the city’s current plan. The study also considered closing a few lanes of the roadway to create a walkway. Now the reduced lanes may be used to create space for residential building cores.

The apartments would be attached to the core and cantilever over the highway with waterfront views to the east and no western windows facing Lower Manhattan’s skyscrapers. The apartment floor plate would be small, about 5,000 square feet, which could accommodate several apartments per floor.

Gregg Pasquarelli of SHoP Architects said the buildings could be built without closing any additional lanes of the F.D.R. The lowest level apartments would be over the roadway and be the equivalent of five stories off of the ground.

The first phase improvements designed by Rogers Partnership, SHoP and landscape architect Ken Smith, include the pedestrian-bicycle ramp connection near the historic Battery Maritime Building, a reflecting pool plaza to replace the Fish Market parking area on Peck Slip, rebuilding open space on Pier 15, a tree-lined boulevard along Allen and Pike Sts. (what Pasquarelli likened to the Champs Elysées), a better southern entrance to East River Park, the F.D.R. pavilions, and could include things like 1,000 birch trees and a small beach area near the Brooklyn Bridge.

Richard Rogers Partnership/ SHoP Architects/ Ken Smith Landscape Architect. 

A look at the proposed pavilions to be built under the F.D.R., above and what the area looks like now, below.

Paul Goldstein, C.B. 1’s district manager, said the short term plans were “under-whelming” because so much of the money is being used for the Maritime ramp. “I think we are deferring everything for 10 or 20 years,” said Goldstein. He said the plans for open space on Pier 15 looked to be geared to accommodate tall ships and not the most pressing park need on the East Side – play space for children.

City Planning officials stressed that it was still early in the process, but seemed much more willing to design something different for Pier 15 than not building the Battery building connection. The city spent $36 million to restore the building’s exterior but the interior still needs a major investment to convert it into a new use. Ferries to Governors Island also leave from the building.

For many years, Burden has been a strong advocate for creating a continuous esplanade around Manhattan and said the ramp was an important piece to the goal.

She said the Maritime Building ramp would be considerably less than $50 million, although precise figures have not been worked out.

Vishaan Chakrabarti, Manhattan office director of City Planning, said the city is still talking with the L.M.D.C. about whether the state-city agency is willing to cover the costs of the ramp.

Like Burden, Chakrabarti said he is confident a large amount of L.M.D.C. money is coming soon for the first phase of the project. “We are optimistic about that,” he told board members. “As we go into the more ambitious schemes, there is no identifiable funding.”

Downtown Express photo by Elisabeth Robert

The city hopes to build a ramp in this area near the Battery Maritime Building so pedestrians and cyclists near Battery Park can get to the East River esplanade easily. Some residents fear the costs may be too high for a short term project and should be put on the backburner in favor of other park improvements.

That’s why the residential buildings would be needed, he added. The city expects to issue long-term ground leases to developers, similar to the way Battery Park City was constructed. For 30 years, Downtown’s East River waterfront was zoned to be land-filled and create an east side version of B.P.C., but the plan never got close to being approved by the Army Corps and the zoning was changed in the 1990s.

Carl Weisbrod, president of the Downtown Alliance and a L.M.D.C. board member, said he is happy to see the movement to improve the waterfront, but he has reservations about the tower idea.

The first phase would require moving the tour buses and cars that currently park under the F.D.R. Moving the parking lot has long been a goal of C.B. 1, the city and others, but there is still no alternative site.

If the parking lot is moved, it would set up pavilion space for retail near well-traveled streets like Wall and Fulton, and opportunities to bring in cultural and community spaces near other streets, Chakrabarti said.

Goldstein wanted to know what was in the works for the adjacent areas. The L.M.D.C. has been looking to make improvements along Fulton St., but has not yet presented its ideas to the community board and the next use for the Fulton Fish Market buildings remains up in the air.

City officials said a children’s play area is planned for Burling Slip as part of the Fulton St. plan. General Growth Properties is in the process of taking over control of the Seaport mall as part of its recently-announced purchase of the Rouse Corp., said Bob Balder, who works in the mayor’s office. Once the sale of Rouse is complete, General Growth will own Rouse’s right of first refusal to redevelop two of the market buildings. Balder said this provision in the city’s mall lease wouldn’t take effect until the market relocates to the Bronx early next year.

Davies said, “when the Fulton Fish Market leaves, [Peck Slip] becomes a great New York square.”

Community Board 1 is planning to schedule a meeting to discuss the plans further and City Planning officials are expected to present the plan to Community Board 3 on Oct. 13 at 6:30 p.m., 466 Grand St.

Josh@DowntownExpress.com



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