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.)