After multiple rounds of funding since 2013, the proposed Brooklyn Bridge Beach — a project supported by elected officials, community leaders, and the public — may be inching closer to reality.
The plan, backed by all of these constituencies, aims to create a crescent-shaped wedge of sand along the East River waterfront, just north of the South Street Seaport, where park-goers could wade knee deep in tide. If built, it would become the sole access point at which Lower Manhattan residents could step into the water that surrounds them, rather than merely looking at it.
The site is controlled by the Economic Development Corporation (EDC), a not-for-profit corporation that negotiates strategic partnerships designed to foster economic growth by harnessing public-sector resources to private-sector projects. Although the EDC has accepted millions of dollars from the City Council and the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation (LMDC) that were earmarked to create Brooklyn Bridge Beach, the organization refused for years to spend any of this money. Instead, EDC declared that a beach on that stretch of the East River would be unsafe, and attempted to reallocate the funds to other, nearby projects — such as the East River Esplanade.
But at the April 26 meeting of Community Board 1 (CB1), Paul Goldstein, who chairs that panel’s Waterfront Committee, said, “EDC reported to us that they are aware people are asking for access to the water’s edge and water itself. They said they are going to cut the bulkhead back to provide access to the beach and shoreline, through ramps and stairs that go to the beach. Their goal at this point is something they call ‘toes in the sand.’ Whether they are really going to allow people into the water remains to be seen.”
This represents a substantial departure from the EDC’s previous position. In 2018, an EDC source told the Broadsheet, “a study conducted by a professional engineer determined that there were feasibility and safety concerns for the Brooklyn Bridge Beach project as it was originally proposed. Given the serious safety and permitting issues, we will not be building Brooklyn Bridge Beach as proposed, but still have every intention of creating a project that connects the community with the waterfront. We are working towards putting out a request for proposals for the design of a buildable project that takes into account safety and permitting feasibility concerns as set forth in the study.”
At a CB1 meeting in January, 2018, a succession of boosters outlined their frustration with this approach. Graeme Birchall, president of the Downtown Boathouse (which provides free kayaks to more than 30,000 people each summer in the Hudson River and on Governors Island), noted that, “EDC says the water is not safe there, but every year, the City allows hundreds of people into the water there for private event — a paddle board race that costs $1,000 to enter.”
This was a reference to SEA Paddle NYC, which has (every year since 2007) invited a crowd of paddlers to wade into the surf at the site of the proposed beach and embark on a 25-mile race up to the northern tip of Manhattan, and back down the Hudson River shoreline.
Louis Kleinman, the community liaison for the Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance, a not-for-profit advocacy group that works to transform the waters of New York and New Jersey Harbor into clean and accessible places to learn, work and play, said, “people who do a lot of East River kayaking use that beach regularly. It’s totally illegal, but they pull in there all the time, and never have any problem with safety.”
David Sheldon, a member of Save Our Seaport, which advocates for preserving the neighbor hood surrounding the site, asked, “what were all those millions of dollars supposed to be for? Surely they didn’t need that much for a patch of sand?”
In 2016, the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation allocated $5 million to the project. According to the official website of Governor Andrew Cuomo, these funds were intended, “to continue to build on… past support for public waterfront access…. The project will also include the installation of new railings and site furnishing while creating limited beach access near the Brooklyn Bridge.” This tranche of funding came on top of a 2013 allocation of $7 million from then-Manhattan Borough President (now City Comptroller) Scott Stringer.
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