The Battery Park City Authority (BPCA) will host the second of two Concept Development Open House meetings tonight (Monday, August 1), to share preliminary ideas about how to reconfigure the streetscapes on South End Avenue and West Thames Street, and to solicit feedback from the residents.
The session will take place at Six River Terrance (opposite the Irish Hunger Memorial and next to Le Pain Quotidien restaurant) from 5:00 to 8:00 pm.
The meeting will not contain a formal presentation, but rather is formatted as a “drop-in” session, at which attendees can arrive at any time during the three hours, ask questions and offer opinions for as long or as short as they wish. This session, and last Monday’s meeting, are the BPCA’s first public discussion of what changes it might undertake along South End Avenue and West Thames Street since hiring urban design consultant Stantec in June, 2015.
At last Monday’s meeting, representatives from the BPCA and Stantec sketched out three options for transforming South End Avenue. Each version of the plan involves narrowing the roadway on South End Avenue, widening the sidewalk on the west side of the street, and making changes to the arcades — a series colonnades that adorn the sides of four large residential buildings on the west side the street, stretching from Albany Street to the South Cove cul-de-sac. These arcades widen what would otherwise be a very narrow (and heavily trafficked) sidewalk, also providing pedestrians with shelter during harsh weather. The columned porticoes additionally offer shop owners space outside their front doors, where customers can congregate and merchandise can be displayed.
The arcades, “were originally part of the master plan and design guidelines, which tends to stifle the retail presence and activity” explained Gwen Dawson, the Authority’s vice president for real property, at the time Stantec was hired, for a fee $247,000. She added, “the visibility for retail activity is very limited.”
OPTION # 1
A schematic that shows the wider sidewalks, narrower street, and unchanged traffic patterns that are the core of the first of the three concepts that consulting firm Stantec has formulated for South End Avenue and West Thames Street.
An illustration that the minor changes to the arcades and the much wider sidewalks envisioned by the first of three scenarios for South End Avenue.
In the first of the three options formulated by Stantec, the arcades remain open to the public, but are refurbished with new lighting, arched ceilings, and new signage for the stores within. At the same time, the sidewalks along the west side of South End Avenue are extended by 19 feet (the most of any of the three options), while South End Avenue’s roadbed is narrowed to 44 feet (from 64 feet). In this option, traffic flow remains the same as it is currently, but South End Avenue and West Thames Street experience a loss of 25 parking spaces.
In the second version of the plan, the sidewalk along the west side of South End Avenue is again widened and the street is also tapered, but by smaller margins than in the first concept.This contingency, however, envisions creating two new traffic islands in the middle of South End Avenue — one near the entrance to Gateway Plaza, and the other between the two lawns of Rector Park.
The second concept developed by Stantec envisions further enhancement to the arcades along South End Avenue, but also mandates that they remain as open, public space.
In the second scenario, the arcades remain open and are revamped as described above, but also get an awning that extends out over the sidewalk, which is widened by 15 feet, while the South End Avenue roadway is narrowed to 44 feet. Under this version of the plan, traffic directions remain the same, but two new traffic islands are created: one starting at Liberty Street and extending south of the entrance to Gateway Plaza, and the other between the pair of Rector Place roadways on either side of the Rector Park Lawns. (The traffic island in front of Gateway is very similar to one proposed in 2013, which Community Board 1 fought hard to veto, because it would severely constrict vehicular access to Gateway Garage, which is already a chokepoint during the morning and evening rush hours.) This option entails a loss of 32 parkings spaces along South End Avenue and West Thames Street, with 62 remaining.
This map of the third version of the plan for South End Avenue illustrates the dramatically altered traffic patterns contemplated by this scenario: one-way streets (denoted by double pink arrows) on Liberty Street, Albany Street, and South End Avenue.
In version three of Stantec’s plan, the arcades along South End Avenue are privatized and enclosed for conversion to new retail space.
In the third version of the plan, the arcades are enclosed and become private retail space that extends to the outside edge of the columns. This option also widens the sidewalks along the west side of South End Avenue by 17 feet, while the roadway is narrowed to 40 feet. In this contingency, traffic flows are also significantly altered: Liberty Street becomes one way only (westbound) between West Street and South End Avenue; South End Avenue becomes one way only (southbound) between Liberty Street and Albany Street (with a dedicated left-turn lane as it approaches Albany Street); and Albany Street becomes one way only (eastbound) between South End Avenue and West Street. The number of parking spaces that would be lost under this version of the plan is unknown.
In all three options, the South End Avenue cul-de-sac (between West Thames Street and South Cove Marina) becomes a “shared street,” meaning that it is periodically closed to traffic and used for recreation. The National Association of City Transportation Officials defines a shared street as one that can be closed to, “function foremost as a public space for recreation, socializing, and leisure.”
This possibility that the arcades on South End Avenue might be closed and converted to private retail space has been vehemently criticized by dozens of Battery Park City residents and business owners in a series of public meetings. This opposition may be inspired, in part, by an unrelated initiative that recently gave the owners of more than a dozen Lower Manhattan buildings on and near Water Street the green light to take over more than 100,000 square feet of public space within arcades, and convert this to private, retail use. This controversial transformation of a onetime public amenity to private profit may confer on these building owners a benefit worth many tens of millions of dollars.
The BPCA has repeatedly stated that modifications to the South End Avenue arcades are one small part of the much larger study that the agency is undertaking in an effort to improve the overall streetscape along what functions as the main thoroughfare in the neighborhood’s southern section. Authority representatives have also stressed that the possibility of modifying these arcades is in no way connected to the Water Street proposal. Finally, they have emphasized changes to these arcades will not (and cannot) be imposed by the Authority without the consent of the buildings in which the structures are located.
While the presentation of options for revamping South End Avenue that will be featured at tonight’s Concept Development Open House meeting (and was showcased at the similar meeting, last Monday) are the first public discussion of changes to South End Avenue, they appear unlikely to be the last. The Authority has promised future meetings that will focus on this subject, although dates for these have yet to be announced.
Authority spokesman Nick Sbordone said recently that, “changes in or improvements to the South End Avenue/West Thames Street streetscape, if any, would only occur after all interested stakeholders — including residents, building and condo owners, area businesses, the City of New York, et cetera — have had the opportunity to provide input.” He added, “this is an iterative process, something we want to continue to get input on.”