BPCA Prepares Preliminary Steps to Implement South End Avenue Plan
South End Avenue, which functions as the equivalent of Main Street for Battery Park City’s southern neighborhood, has been the focus of a years-long effort to reach consensus on redesigning the thoroughfare.
The Battery Park City Authority (BPCA) offered an update on its plans to reconfigure South End Avenue and West Thames Street at the April 7 meeting of the Battery Park City Committee of Community Board 1 (CB1). This project envisions narrowing both South End Avenue and West Thames Street, while widening nearby sidewalks, and relocating several bus stops.
Board chair Tammy Meltzer began the discussion by noting that CB1, “passed resolutions and had dialogue about South End Avenue going back five years. It’s been very long time that we’ve been waiting for capital improvements on South End Avenue,” in a reference to the BPCA’s presentation about its budget, offered at the April 7 meeting.
BPCA president B.J. Jones replied, “we do have a line item for South End Avenue for this year, to kick the design and engineering into gear. And you’re right, Tammy. We have talked and spent a lot of time with that effort. And it is time that we get started.”
“So we’re going to do what’s within our control, and that is to begin the design and engineering in earnest this year,” he added. “One of the challenges, which may be this body can help with, is that there’s the more-important piece of funding, the construction of those changes on South End Avenue. And in our last request to the City, the Department of Transportation [DOT] doesn’t have funding for it, currently. And the City did not approve that as part of our first round of this capital plan. We do have some funding approved for the design and engineering. But we have not received approval from the City for the construction portion of the South End Avenue redesign.”
This was a reference to the fact that the City has a legal claim on any “excess revenue” generated by the BPCA, which translates into the Mayor’s office wielding an effective veto power on capital spending by the Authority. The project to rebuild South End Avenue and West Thames Street is estimated to cost between $20 and $25 million, and require as much as two years for construction.
In early 2018, after years of sometimes-contentious discussions, CB1 reached a consensus with the BPCA, DOT, and City Council Member Margaret Chin on the redesign process for South End Avenue. Several months later, however, a separate development raised questions in the minds of some community leaders about any further need for a redesign of South End Avenue. After passage of CB1’s resolution approving the BPCA’s plans for South End Avenue, the DOT heeded a decade-long demand by CB1 and pedestrian safety advocates, agreeing to install a traffic light at Rector Place and South End Avenue. (In the event, this decision was not implemented until the summer of 2019.) In a stroke, this move addressed the traffic safety concerns raised for years by a succession of residents. But the BPCA indicated that it viewed the traffic light as a welcome addition to its plans for South End Avenue, and not a replacement for them.
Nick Sbordone, a spokesman for the BPCA noted that, “with substantial input from CB1, Council Member Margaret Chin, and the City DOT, the Authority developed a conceptual plan for traffic calming measures along South End Avenue and West Thames Street, resulting in a CB1 resolution passed with unanimous support. The next round of community feedback comes with our design phase, as we further refine these pedestrian safety concepts to square with practical matters — like utilities placement, subsurface conditions, optimal sidewalk width, and maintenance considerations — prior to the start of any construction. As always, we look forward to continuing this necessary work in close consultation with the BPC community.”
Pat Smith, the board president of the Battery Pointe condominium (at South End Avenue and Rector Place) told Mr. Jones at an October, 2019 meeting, “before you go too far on South End Avenue, please remember that six condo boards, representing more than 1,000 households along South End Avenue, from Albany down to West Thames, don’t want you to do this.” He later added, “if CB1 and the Authority need to address conditions between Albany and Liberty Streets, they should absolutely proceed. But there is no problem south of Albany Street that requires this kind of disruptive and expensive intervention.”
This was a reference to a series of resolutions, passed in two waves, by the elected boards of multiple condominium buildings. The first of these came in 2016, when the managing boards of a dozen condominium buildings in Battery Park City passed resolutions calling upon the Authority to halt its initiative, begun the previous year, to consider a possible redesign of South End Avenue. The scope of this project was subsequently narrowed, when the BPCA announced that it was no longer considering filling in the pedestrian arcades that line the facades of four buildings along the thoroughfare, in order to create new retail space. (This was the most controversial aspect of the study, and had attracted widespread criticism. It has since been abandoned.)
A rendering of the BPCA’s plan for changes to the South End Avenue streetscape, with widened sidewalks shown in red, new medians in green, and the new “speed table” in brown.
But the resolutions enacted by the twelve condominiums also took issue with the broader process of reconceiving South End Avenue, demanding that the Authority specify what problems it aimed to solve with the project, how it intended pay for any new construction, and how long and disruptive such construction might be. The roster of condominiums opposed the project included eleven buildings in the southern half of the community (Battery Pointe, the Cove Club, Liberty Court, Liberty House, Liberty Terrace, Liberty View, Hudson View East, Hudson View West, One Rector Park, the Regatta, and the Soundings), and one building in the northern section of Battery Park City: Riverhouse.
In late 2018 and early 2019, six condominium boards (the Soundings, Battery Pointe, Liberty View, Liberty Court, Hudson View East, and One Rector Park) responded by once again enacting resolutions voicing their continuing concerns about the project, noting, “now that DOT has decided to install a traffic light in this intersection, the solution developed by the CB1’s Battery Park City Committee and the BPCA is no longer needed, and is a needless expense ultimately borne by property owners in Battery Park City. Implementing the solution also will result in substantial disruption of the street in front of our homes, negatively impacting our quality of life.”
The resolutions added, “since the Battery Park City Homeowners Coalition currently is negotiating with the BPCA to reduce the burden of ground rents on condo owners, the [boards] feel it is our duty to call attention to such needless expenses by the BPCA.”
The resolutions concluded that the boards of the six buildings, “therefore call upon the Battery Park City Authority to take no further action nor to spend any additional funds to change in any way, except for required routine maintenance, the street or sidewalk along South End Avenue from Rector Place to West Thames Street.”
Among the reasons for their opposition, critics of the plan have noted that narrowing South End Avenue by five feet and narrowing West Thames Street by 14 feet would make these streets almost impassable if trucks, cars or taxis double parked. They also noted that narrowing the street and widening the sidewalk could attract more bicycles, skateboards and scooters to the sidewalks, endangering pedestrians.
A subsequent development may yet add further complexity to these deliberations. Brookfield Place has opened an outpost of Convene, a firm that develops and markets meeting rooms, event venues and flexible workspaces (and is partially owned by Brookfield) in the 86,000-square-foot space formerly occupied by Saks Fifth Avenue, at the corner of Liberty Street and South End Avenue. Although this facility has been mostly inactive during the COVID-19 pandemic, when and if it resumes operation, it is expected to draw crowds of more than 1,200 people. In the event that even ten percent of participants attending these events arrive or leave by car, that could add in excess of 100 vehicles (in the space of a few minutes) to South End Avenue, which is already seriously congested for many hours each day. How the thoroughfare would accommodate that extra volume if it is narrowed remains an open question.
After a year-long closure, the Regal Battery Park Theater (located at 102 North End Avenue, in the pedestrian arcade between Vesey and Murray Streets) has reopened, as part of public health guidelines that allow movie houses to resume operation at reduced capacity.
The Downtown Alliance, in partnership with The Tank and En Garde Arts, will present a live, free outdoor performance festival in Lower Manhattan on the weekends of May 15/16 and May 22/23.
Three open-air venues (Four New York Plaza, where a covered loading dock will become a stage; the 85 Broad Street arcade, adjacent to Stone Street; and One Battery Park Plaza, featuring with views of New York Harbor) will host performances from noon to 8:00 pm. Participating artists include multiple Obie Award and Pulitzer Prize winners, as well as emerging voices, such as playwright/actress Kaaron Briscoe; playwright/actor David Greenspan; hip-hop, spoken word and performance artists Baba Israel and Grace Galu; and popular downtown music and storytelling duo James and Jerome. Tickets are free, but required — and must be reserved in advance for social distancing and pandemic precautions. To R.S.V.P., please browse: TheTankNYC.org and/or EnGardeArts.org
Ars Gratia Artis
The Lower Manhattan Cultural Council (LMCC) is offering 18 free arts classes for older adults, with offerings ranging from a Japanese dance workshop to memoir writing. The organization has enlisted more than a dozen professional artists, working across a broad range of disciplines, oversee creative-aging projects for Downtown seniors. The classes are offered through June 30, and all are remote and free to attend. No previous experience is required, and art materials are provided. The series includes dance and movement, music, theater and storytelling, visual arts and writing and literature. For more information, or to sign up, please browse: https://lmcc.net/resources/artist-residencies/su-casa/
Socialize Under the Stars
Pier 17 will re-open the Greens, its rooftop space, on May 3.
A reservation (priced at between $20 and $40, depending on the time of day, with a portion of the fee going to local charities) get you a ten-by-ten patch of mini-lawn, with with cabana-style lounge chairs, a sun umbrella, a USB charging port and a cooler. Bites and cocktails cost extra, but the panoramic view is included. For more information, please browse: http://thegreens.pier17ny.com
The Battery Park City Authority asks that the public not interact with or feed the urban wildlife in the neighborhood’s parks and green spaces, and at the waterfront.
Digital event. Take a fun and informative virtual tour of the zero waste work happening at the Battery Park City Authority!
One hundred years ago, on May 31 and June 1, 1921, white mobs in Tulsa, Oklahoma attacked the city’s Black residents and businesses in one of the worst incidents of racial violence in American history. They killed hundreds of people and destroyed 35 square blocks in the city’s Greenwood District, also called “Black Wall Street,” which had been the wealthiest Black community in the United States. This racist massacre on American soil was similar in many ways to the pogroms experienced by eastern European Jews, in which violent antisemitic mobs attacked Jewish people, homes, and business. But the 1921 Tulsa race massacre was a taboo topic for decades in the United States, including among some American Jews. Join the Museum for a groundbreaking program exploring Tulsa and its legacy on the eve of the massacre’s centennial. Judy Woodruff, anchor and managing editor of the PBS NewsHour, will moderate the discussion. $10
Jazz in Tribeca
Tribeca’s own percussion king, Grammy Award-winning Robby Ameen, is returning to the live music arena with a Thursday night jazz series at Phillip Williams Posters, at 52 Warren Street. Catch him and his signature Afro-Cuban rhythms starting Thursday, April 29, 7pm to 9pm. Joining Robby are Bob Franceschini on sax, Edsel Gomez on piano, and Lincoln Goines on bass. Suggested donation is $20, which includes a glass of wine. Admission is limited due to covid restrictions; call 212-513-0313 for a reservation.
Robby Ameen has played with Dizzy Gillespie, Ruben Blades, Paul Simon, and many other musicians of note. His most recent album is “Diluvio.”
Downtown Non-Profit Sues to Halt Arrest for Minor Offenses
A non-profit based in Lower Manhattan is suing the New York Police Department and the City to halt the practice of arresting people accused of low-level offenses, such as administrative violations and infractions, misdemeanors, and some class-E felonies.
The Legal Aid Society, headquartered at 199 Water Street, filed suit on April 14 in New York State Supreme Court, on behalf of multiple plaintiffs who were arrested and detained on minor offenses during the demonstrations that convulsed Lower Manhattan last summer, following the death of George Floyd in police custody in May.
More Survivors than Responders Now are Submitting Claims
The September 11th Victim Compensation Fund (VCF) has released its annual report for 2020, which documents some significant developments.
Over the course of its ten years of operation thus far, the VCF has awarded $7.76 billion to more than 34,400 individuals who have suffered death or personal injury as a result of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 and their aftermath. The vast majority of these injuries take the form of illness caused by exposure to toxic materials that were released by the destruction of the World Trade Center.