Volume 17 • Issue 25 | Nov. 12 - Nov. 19, 2004

C.B. 1 calls for changes to East River plan

By Josh Rogers

Making the East River waterfront better is more important than making sure people can get there easily, residents said at a recent Community Board 1 meeting.

“Getting people to the water is the goal, not getting people around the island,” Paul Goldstein, the board’s district manager, said at a committee meeting to discuss the city’s waterfront plan. “Connecting people more is not more important than giving people a reason to go to the water.”

The City Planning Dept. is proposing to improve the waterfront from the Battery up to East River Park and has proposed an expensive ramp system near the Battery-Maritime Building to connect pedestrians, joggers, bikers and bladers to the East and Hudson River waterfronts.

Amanda Burden, City Planning’s chairperson, told Downtown Express several weeks ago that the ramp system would be less than $50 million, although there are no precise estimates yet. According to one source familiar with some of the cost estimates, the ramp project may cost in the neighborhood of $40 million.

Burden said she hopes the Lower Manhattan Development Corp. authorizes most of the funds for the East River project costs by the end of the year. City Planning says it will cost at least $100 million, and Madelyn Wils, a L.M.D.C. board member and the chairperson of C.B. 1 said it will be $150 million.

Michael Samuelian, a senior urban designer for City Planning, attended the meeting and took notes on the board members’ concerns and comments.

Members at the meeting said there is not enough active recreation space in the plan and asked the city to consider making the Seaport’s Pier 15 into more of a play area rather than a place for tall ships to dock. The South Street Seaport Museum has the lease for Pier 15, but they are in financial trouble and have not yet been able to raise the $10 million needed to rebuild the pier.

Larry Huntington, the museum’s chairperson, said there will be plenty of room on the pier for ships to dock and children to play. “I see nothing incompatible with recreation space on the pier itself,” Huntington said in a telephone interview. “We would welcome the city’s plan.”

He also said the museum has decided not to go through with its plan to sell its most recognizable ship, the Peking, the gigantic steel sailing vessel.

“The Peking is not for sale,” he said. Huntington said that they decided it would be better to convert the ship into a maritime education center rather than bid permanent bon voyage to the Peking.

The museum laid off many workers recently and Huntington said they are no longer losing money. He plans to hire a fundraiser to come up with the money to pay for Pier 15 and the Peking conversion.

City Planning sees the museum as part of the whole waterfront plan, which also includes retail stores and cultural spaces under the F.D.R. Drive, a beach near the Brooklyn Bridge and 1,000 birch trees.

Jennifer Hensley, a board member who works for the Downtown Alliance, said it is important to use the area under the F.D.R. for things that will attract people in the colder months, too. “Is a restaurant or a flower shop enough to draw people year round,” she asked.

She and other board members said building a plaza on Peck Slip was a good idea but that the proposed reflecting pool did not make sense because it wasted space in an area with so few parks.

Wils said there needs to be a business planning organization to run the area under the F.D.R. to make sure the waterfront is not clustered with cell phone stores and A.T.M.s, the most likely vendors to move in first.

City Planning has also proposed building up to seven residential towers over the F.D.R. in the second phase of the project in order to pay for building about 12 acres of park space out over the water. The board was skeptical the plan would ever get off the ground and raised objections to the idea of towers.

“Phase 2 probably won’t get done in my lifetime if it ever gets done,” said Linda Roche.

Samuelian acknowledged it will be hard to get environmental approval to build over the water. “There are a lot of hurdles,” he said. “We know that. We don’t want to just come up with a waterfront plan that does not get built.”


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