Postponed Park

The exit ramp from the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel
A new public space first promised to Lower Manhattan residents in 2012 has slipped an additional five months behind schedule, according the City’s Department of Parks and Recreation. The facility in question is the planned Elizabeth Berger Plaza Park, which will be bounded by Greenwich Street, Edgar Street, and Trinity Place, along with an exit ramp from the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel.

The effort is being spearheaded by Downtown Alliance, which is proposing to eliminate a two-lane exit ramp from the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel and combine a pair of small Financial District plazas that it separates into a single, larger public square. One of the two spaces, Elizabeth H. Berger Plaza (which will lend its name to the larger, combined park), is located on the north side of the exit ramp, and surrounded by Edgar Street, Greenwich Street, and Trinity Place. Formerly known as Edgar Plaza, this space was renamed in December, 2013 to honor Elizabeth Berger, the former president of the Alliance, who died in 2012, after a battle with pancreatic cancer.

Elizabeth Berger
The second space, known as Trinity Plaza and situated on the south side of the exit ramp, is a forlorn, irregularly shaped expanse of concrete that is bordered by Trinity Place on the east, but largely cut off from the surrounding community on all other sides by fencing and guard rails for the tunnel. The exit ramp that currently lies between the two plazas vents the traffic from the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel onto Trinity Place, but is replicated by another, nearby ramp that directs vehicles exiting the tunnel onto Greenwich street. The value of both ramps is limited by the fact that they are closed to traffic during the morning rush hour, when drivers are most likely to utilize them.

The two-lane exit ramp from the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel takes up 2,500 square feet of open space. If eliminated and absorbed into a single plaza created by combining those on either side, the resulting new park would have an area more than 29,000 square feet. The traffic that currently uses the ramp slated for removal would still be able to rejoin Trinity Place by making right turns onto either Edgar or Rector Streets.

A schematic drawing of the proposed new park, highlighting the various design concepts that would be incorporated into different “zones” of the space.
The Parks Department announced in 2016 that it had completed a design for the new park, which featured a shaded meadow, banks of flowering plants and shrubs, and groves of trees, including conifers, dogwoods, cedars, cypresses, and red oaks. These would be surrounded by granite and flagstone surfaces, as well as classical design elements, such as the hooped benches that the Parks Department designed for the 1939 World’s Fair.

But a page on the Parks Department’s website now indicates that the design process (which began in October, 2012) was not actually completed until March of 2018. This marked the start of the procurement phase of the the project, in which engineers and construction firms will be retained to implement the design. That part of the project was slated to be finished by December, 2018. But the Parks Department’s website now says that completion of this stage has slipped to May of 2019. Assuming that procurement is completed by the May deadline called for in the current schedule, actual construction is expected to take from 12 to 18 months, which means that the new park is unlikely to debut before the spring of 2021. Further slippage in the schedule might push that opening date back to 2022, which would mean that a park of approximately half an acre will have taken a decade to complete. In another context, the decade milestone has already passed: Community Board 1 began calling on the City to create a plan for such a park and fund it in 2009.

One reason for the delay may be that a further element of complexity was introduced when the City’s Department of Education announced in 2016 that it intended to build a new public school at the base of an apartment tower currently being constructed on the north side of the proposed park, on Edgar Street. Community leaders and elected officials have since advocated for closing half of Edgar Street for safety reasons, to create a wider plaza on which children attending the school could be dropped off and picked up.

A landscape layout showing the areas for grass, shrubbery, flowers, and groves of trees envisioned for the new park.
The overall budget for the new park is estimated to range between $3 and $5 million, which comes from a combination of outlays from City Hall, Borough President Gale Brewer, and City Council member Margaret Chin.

As chief of the Alliance from 2007 through 2012, Ms. Berger, who was a tireless civic champion of Lower Manhattan, helped lead the Downtown community just as rebuilding from the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 kicked into high gear. Beginning in the fall of 2012, she reprised this role by helping shepherd the neighborhood through the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. Along the way, she presided over the launch of innovative initiatives like Re:Construction, which turned building sites into large-scale canvases for public art. She also established programs that proved critical to Lower Manhattan businesses, such as the Back to Business grant program, which raised and distributed more than $1.5 million to 100-plus Lower Manhattan businesses affected by Hurricane Sandy. Ms. Berger also worked to enhance quality of life for people who live and work in Lower Manhattan by expanding the Alliance’s free Downtown Connection shuttle bus service, and launching free w-fi service in public spaces throughout Downtown.

Ms. Berger had deep roots and a long history of leadership in the Downtown community.  A resident of the area for more than three decades, she served on Community Board 1 from 1999 through 2005. She also served on the board of directors of the Trust for Governors Island and the Municipal Art Society.

In 2007, Ms. Berger recalled for the Broadsheet standing in front of Tribeca’s P.S. 234 on the morning of September 11, 2001 as planes struck the World Trade Center, and reflected on her position with the Downtown Alliance (where she served on the board for several years before taking over as president): “I’d spent 18 years helping to build this community. This role is an incredible way to continue the rebuilding — beyond bricks and mortar.”

In some ways, Ms. Berger, wrote her own epitaph when reflected on her affection for Lower Manhattan, saying, “I love the excitement that’s New York. I like taking our bikes and going up the Hudson River bike path. I like making dinner, I like theater, I’m interested in art, I like showing my kids our city. It’s the way I grew up. I like to read, I like to travel. I feel as though there’s a real synergy in this position that brings together things that are important to me. It’s exciting. I’ll relax later.”
Matthew Fenton

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