The Battery Park City Authority (BPCA) has decided against enclosing the arcades along South End Avenue to create new retail space. At Tuesday night’s meeting of Community Board 1 (CB1), Gwen Dawson, the Authority’s vice president for real property, said, “as a result of the feedback process to date, we’ve heard substantial concern about filling in the arcades for the purposes of providing additional, indoor retail space. Our own economic analysis as well indicates significant potential barriers to pursuing this course of action at this time. Therefore, enclosing the arcades will not be a recommendation of our study.” This announcement elicited a round of applause from the audience, as well as from members of CB1
This study to which Ms. Dawson referred is an ongoing review of the South End Avenue streetscape that began in June 2015, when the Authority hired an urban design consultant to recommend possible upgrades to the thoroughfare. In August of this year, the consultant team unveiled three sets of preliminary options for reconfiguring South End Avenue. One of these included the “infill” of the arcades, a series colonnades that stretch from Albany Street, to Rector Place, to West Thames Street and widen what would otherwise be a very narrow (and heavily trafficked) sidewalk. The arcades also provide pedestrians with shelter during inclement weather, and shade during bright sunshine.
The possibility that these spaces might be cut off from public access proved a flashpoint in public discussions about changes to South End Avenue. At multiple public meetings, hosted by the Authority and CB1, residents have decried the possible loss of the arcades. Jane Mancino, a resident of 200 Rector Place, said at an October 5 meeting of CB1’s Battery Park City Committee, “it’s a stupid idea and a waste of money and takes away something that I like; a convenience that I want to keep.”
Although no one at either of two recent meetings of CB1’s Battery Park City Committee spoke in support of the initiative to reconfigure South End Avenue, some local residents see merit in the idea. David Goodman, who has lived on Rector Place for 18 years, says, “South End Avenue is a very wide street for New York City, and doesn’t have very much traffic compared to Broadway or Church Street. This is not very functional. It takes a long time to cross the street, and the extra space ends up being used by Uber cars picking up or dropping off, and people looking for parking.”
“I just got back from two weeks in Spain,” Mr. Goodman continued. “In the big cities in the southern part of the country, they dress up their streets with planters and flower pots in the middle. An island in the middle of South End Avenue would discourage taxis from zooming around and making fast u-turns. Something should be done, and it’s a little disappointing to hear people say, ‘we don’t want anything to change, it’s wonderful the way it is.’ There’s nothing wonderful to preserve there.”
At CB1’s full, monthly meeting on Tuesday, Ninfa Segarra, chair of that panel’s Battery Park City Committee, focused less on the outcome of the BPCA’s decision regarding the arcades, than the methodology that led to it. Ms. Segarra said, “the announcement today by BPCA is a classic example of the issue we’ve been dealing with, and it’s a question of process. Just as easily as they announced that the arcades are not going to be affected, they could have said were going to be affected, because it’s a unilateral decision. It’s a reporting out, without participation.”
Ms. Segarra observed that major projects throughout Lower Manhattan usually come before CB1, “and go through our committee process, we have discussions on them, we give recommendations. With BPCA, the process is we get announcements, we get reports, and maybe we get to attend one or two things, and then figure out what their next steps are. This affects, for those of us who live in Battery Park City, everything in our lives.”
She cited the South End Avenue study as a case in point, saying, “we spent two years working in partnership with City’s Department of Transportation, and then the Authority decided it did not want,” the results of this initiative, “and that they would take a holistic look. The holistic look came back two years later with a report that they had hired someone to come up with designs. That’s not a process.”
Anthony Notaro, chair of CB1 agreed, saying, “we don’t always have a problem with the result; it’s the process.”
Ms. Segarra then urged CB1 to ratify a resolution, calling for the BPCA to, “immediately cease and desist their process with the South End Avenue Survey and Design plans,” “not to move forward with any capital changes to South End Avenue without approval from the residents living in the southern neighborhood and the existing businesses along South End Avenue,” and “to disclose all goals, objectives and method of funding for such a project in a clear and transparent way.” The resolution also calls for the City’s Department of Transportation to update a study and proposals from 2013, which were formulated in conjunction with CB1, and focused on traffic safety. The resolution that Ms. Segarra recommended was passed by CB1 without any dissenting votes.
Even with assurances that the arcades will not be enclosed, multiple points of contention remain in the South End Avenue initiative. Foremost among these may be that all three sets of options unveiled by the BPCA’s design consultant during the summer envision the cul-de-sac at the foot of South End Avenue (below West Thames Street) being converted into a “shared street,” meaning that it would periodically be 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.” Multiple residents of the two condominium buildings that open onto this section of South End Avenue had decried this as a hardship and possible safety hazard. Other potential issues include the cost of such a project, the impact that construction would have on the community, and the time it would take to complete.
In her remarks at the Tuesday meeting of CB1, Ms. Dawson emphasized that, “there is no work currently planned, and we are committed to providing additional opportunities for public input before any design decisions are made.” She added, we’re also committed to providing updates to the Community Board and public as we move through what was, from the start, intended to be an iterative process. Over the coming weeks we’ll be coordinating a joint public meeting with the Department of Transportation, in Battery Park City, to continue engaging the community and soliciting its valued input on these efforts. I invite you all to attend as BPCA’s work with the Department of Transportation on a set of recommended strategies for street and pedestrian improvements along South End Avenue and West Thames Street continues.”
In a related development, the boards of nine condominium buildings that could be affected by any changes to South End Avenue have enacted resolutions opposing any such plan. The nine buildings, which house a combined total of 4,000 residents, are Battery Pointe, the Cove Club, Hudson View East, Hudson View West, Liberty Court, Liberty House, Liberty Terrace, Liberty View, and the Soundings. These resolutions were ratified in August, September, and October. Similar resolutions are expected from more buildings soon.
At Tuesday’s CB1 meeting, Pat Smith, president of the board at Battery Pointe, recommended that members of CB1, “urge your elected officials to follow your lead on this,” and asked, “why did this Authority go out and spend $272,000 to start all over again,” after the DOT’s 2013 study. “What drove them to make a decision like this? To take a perfectly good proposal, developed by the Community Board and the Department of Transportation, and push it aside, and spend all this money on nothing?”