At its March 22 Open Community Meeting, the Battery Park City Authority (BPCA) presented an updated version of its plans to fortify Wagner Park, at the community’s southern tip, from future extreme weather events. The area was the site of serious flooding during 2012’s Hurricane Sandy.
The two centerpieces of the plan are a large new, sloping lawn and a new pavilion, which would replace the existing structure that houses Gigino’s restaurant, public lavatories, and storage space. Together, the lawn and the pavilion would form a continuous flood barrier stretching from the Battery (the public park on the far side of Pier A) to the Museum of Jewish Heritage, at which point the BPCA plans to create additional water barriers, stretching northward the length of Battery Park City. Also included in the plan are new gardens, an outdoor stage next to the Museum of Jewish Heritage, docks alongside the Esplanade at which cultural and educational vessels can moor, and wetlands in the small, unused inlet between Wagner Park and Pier A. Additionally, this inlet would be bridged by an overlook, allowing pedestrians to walk directly from the Wagner Park Esplanade to Pier A, rather than having to trek several hundred feet to backtrack around the small cove.
“We have a building that needs to be replaced,” said Stanton Eckstut, who worked on Battery Park City’s master plan in the 1980s, and now leads the consultant team from Perkins Eastman, the firm hired by the BPCA to formulate a resiliency plan for Wagner Park. “The cost of keeping it would be rebuilding it totally, so why not use the building as a way of solving most of the resiliency problem?”
“Our inspiration is to put more park into Wagner Park, and let landscape really dominate the view,” he continued. “Instead of being the big event for tourists, this is much more of a park that’s about everyday use, with lots of different choices and venues. It’s much more of a neighborhood-oriented Wagner Park.”
About the planned new building to replace the existing pavilion, Mr. Eckstut reflected, “if we’re going to reshape the building and we need a barrier, let’s do it along the curve that already exists. You have most beautiful curve of Battery Place. There’s no place else like this in New York City. So we just took that as the barrier.”
“Whatever we do with the building,” he continued, “it’s going to stay in the same footprint. There’s no way we’re going to take more parkland. We’re going to go up, but not too far, not too high.”
This was a reference to the team’s proposal to replace the existing pavilion with a two story structure, that will also have a roof deck. These enhancements, along with the elimination of the arched passageway that provides a framed view of the Statue of Liberty in the current structure, will enable an expansion from the present size of 7,825 square feet to as much as 17,000 square feet.
In the new plan, the restaurant space (currently occupied by Gigino Wagner Park) will expand from 3,450 square feet to as much as 10,000 square feet, while the public restrooms will shrink from their existing 1,750 square feet to 900 square feet. Space devoted to maintenance, security, and storage of parks equipment would jump from 2,625 square feet to 4,300 square feet. The new facility is also slated to contain a 1,700 square-foot community room. Because the building will be elevated to act as a floor barrier, empty space beneath it will become available for tanks that will capture and treat storm water for later use in irrigation. “We also think we can get enough solar panels on the building to handle its power needs, and maybe some of the lighting in the park,” Mr. Eckstut added.
On the side of the building facing the Hudson, Mr. Eckstut continued, “the lawn has been raised. All the stone walls will be taken away, and the grass will slope gently upward from the Esplanade. This will help with resiliency by creating a beautiful overlook, which is at an elevation of 12 feet. We’ll make the building go away with the landscape. Our inspiration is landscape.”
The BPCA then invited local stakeholders who were attending the March 22 meeting to share their perspectives on the new plan. Warrie Price, president of the Battery Conservancy (which oversees the historic park that adjoins Wagner Park), said the proposal, “is very thoughtfully conceived. Everyone Downtown will be served by being able to seamlessly come to these grand landscapes, where the concentration is on horticulture. We welcome this plan, and we embrace the sense of horticulture as the main event.”
Phil Suarez, the owner of Gigino’s Restaurant, said, “this is a godsend for us. We would love to create a real restaurant, and be able to do many more things, like panini, gelato, a menu for kids. Right now, we have a kitchen of 600 square feet. Some weekends, we’re serving 250 people out of that kitchen.” He added that under the BPCA’s plan for a new building in the park, “we could add so much, make it a real trattoria, and make it affordable. So we endorse it a thousand percent.”
Paul Lamas, one of the owners of the restaurant at Pier A, said, “we think the whole plan is fantastic.” He added, “we are really excited about it, particularly about the connection between Wagner Park and Pier A,” in a reference to the feature of the plan that would create a bridge between Wagner Park and Pier A.
Mr. Lamas concluded, “we love the tourists and the corporate events, but we really judge our success by how we help the local community and how the local community accepts us. And the connectivity between the park and the pier will go a long way toward helping us do that.”