Volume 17, Number 42 | March 11 - 17, 2005

Board likes East River plan changes

Pier 15 near the South Street Seaport would be rebuilt into park space that would also accommodate ships under the city’s plan for the East River waterfront, above and below.

By Ronda Kaysen

After half a century of floating plans for the East River waterfront, it looks like the Bloomberg Administration may have finally sunk anchor with Community Board 1. The Department of City Planning unveiled detailed plans to redevelop the waterfront at a Monday night C.B. 1 meeting, to the delight of many board members.

“It is safe to say that we are very enthusiastic about this plan,” Waterfront Committee chairperson Linda Roche said at the joint Waterfront-Financial District Committee meeting. “Especially the Battery Maritime Building.”

Perhaps the most dramatic — and well-received change — is to the Battery Maritime Building. The plan calls for moving the mouth of the Battery Park underpass ramp about 350 feet north to Broad St. Moving the ramp away from the Maritime Building would create three-quarters of an acre of open plaza space — a scarce resource on Downtown’s East Side.

City Planning has decided to seek separate transportation funding for the Maritime Building component of the project, although Rachaele Raynoff, a spokesperson for the department, declined to site specific funding sources in an interview with Downtown Express.

Roche and other C.B. 1 members had been concerned that too much money in the project’s first phase would be devoted to connecting the bike path with the West Side at the Battery Maritime Building rather than improving the East River esplanade itself.

“This is a crucial plan to strengthen Lower Manhattan,” City Planning Commissioner Amanda Burden said at the meeting. “The East River waterfront is one of the most essential waterfronts in the city.”

The design also includes as many as 15 pavilions under the F.D.R. Drive, which would be used for shops, community and cultural programs and recreation centers. In an effort to transform the highway viaduct into something other than an eyesore, the plans would include adding lighting and cladding.

The demolished Pier 15 would be restored using sparsely placed pilings to better protect marine life. The pier would have an upper and lower deck, with a landscaped, sloped terrace above and space for boats to moor below.

“We would like to rethink the way we build piers,” Michael Samuelian, director of Lower Manhattan special projects for City Planning said at the meeting.

In a marked change from the October proposal, the residential towers proposed to sit atop the F.D.R. Drive are now gone from the renderings and the plans. But a reflecting pool on Peck Slip, which could be used as a mini ice-skating rink in the wintertime — and was originally met with skepticism by board members — still remains.

Rendering of the proposal for the East River esplanade.

“The idea of actually bringing water back into the island is compelling if we can make it work,” said landscape architect Ken Smith, who has been working on the East River Waterfront project for nearly a year with Gregg Pasquarelli of ShoP Architects and Michael J. P. Davies of the Richard Rogers Partnership in London.

Despite the generally favorable response from the board, several board and community members expressed concern about various aspects of the plan – particularly the pavilions.

“I have great confidence in the team, I still don’t have that much confidence in the plan,” Randy Polumbo, a Peck Slip resident and Water St. business owner, said at the meeting. Polumbo expressed concern that views might be lost from the new pavilions. Instead, he suggested removing the elevated portion of the F.D.R. Drive, an option that City Planning has dismissed as not feasible.

“I have the feeling that they [the pavilions] are going to wall off the water again,” public member Gwen Billig told City Planning at the meeting. “If you are on the land side, you are going to feel walled off.”

Renderings by ShoP/Richard Rogers Partnership/Ken Smith Landscape Architect

The pavilions will be added incrementally, Samuelian assured. “If they don’t work, we can tear them down,” he said.

Board members also expressed concern about what types of shops and services the pavilions would have. “It would be wonderful if you could include some retail and food uses. We have a lack of that,” said board member Julie Menin, who is also president of Wall Street Rising, an organization she founded to help businesses after 9/11.

The business plan for the pavilions would be developed with community input, Burden said. “We wouldn’t even think of going forward without a real understanding and consensus from the community,” she said.

The next stage for the costly project is procuring funding. The two-mile esplanade is alone expected to cost between $60 and $65 million. City Planning expects the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation to foot most of the $150 million bill for the East River Waterfront plan. The L.M.D.C., governor and mayor are planning to release a report at the end of the month outlining how the agency will spend its remaining $800 million.


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