CB1 Weighs In on Plans for Essential Workers Monument in Battery Park City
BPCA chairman George Tsunis: “We have come to the end of memorials in Battery Park City. We are suffering from memorial fatigue.”
During a five-hour meeting of Community Board 1’s Battery Park City Committee on Wednesday evening, at which more than 100 members of the Downtown community spoke, a team from the Battery Park City Authority (BPCA) presented revised plans for the controversial proposed Essential Workers Monument.
This meeting followed two weeks of protest and dialog—during which residents opposed to the original version of Governor Andrew Cuomo’s plan (which would have located the memorial in Rockefeller Park) camped out in tents for four nights—that have led the Authority to propose locating the shrine elsewhere within the community.
Committee chair Justine Cuccia began the session by recapping recent history, saying, “while we welcome the idea and concept of a Memorial, back in February, we enacted a resolution asking for a process, and if this was going to be in Battery Park City, we wanted to be consulted as to the location, and the design. We are here today, because that did not happen. Our neighbors in Battery Park City’s north neighborhood stepped up, and put their bodies and their children on the line—staying out in the rain and sweltering heat—to make clear that Rockefeller Park was not okay.”
CB1 chair Tammy Meltzer added that, “Downtown Soccer League, Downtown Little League, and the Downtown Giants have all said the same thing, asking, ‘why are you taking open space? Why are you taking active recreation space?’”
CB1 chair Tammy Meltzer (right): “Battery Park City already has more memorials than any other community in the entire State, but residents who died on September 11, and residents who died later from September 11-related illnesses, and those who continue to die from these diseases, are not memorialized with even a bench or a plaque anywhere in this community.”
BPCA chairman George Tsunis said, “I have apologized, because I think that there should have been more input earlier on from a more diverse set of interlocutors and the process was not as coherent as it could have been. The next step is to listen to immediate concerns, and act upon them.” He continued, “we’re going to be introducing some changes to our bylaws. We will see if we can make it so that this never happens again. It’s a lockbox situation, where we can find ways to work together to protect things that are most precious in perpetuity.”
Ms. Cuccia acknowledged, “the BPCA listened. They heard all of us. They said, ‘okay, not here. But where?’ And that brings us to this meeting.”
Battery Park City Committee chair Justine Cuccia: “While we welcome the idea and concept of a Memorial, if this was going to be in Battery Park City, we wanted to be consulted as to the location, and the design. We are here today because that did not happen.”
BPCA president B.J. Jones explained that the Authority’s staff had subsequently considered ten possible sites, from Stuyvesant Plaza (near Chambers and West Streets) in the community’s north, to Pier A Plaza, at its southern extremity. This list of possibilities has been narrowed to a pair of finalists, he explained: Esplanade Plaza (at the corner where the Esplanade joins North Cove Marina, currently occupied by the volleyball court) and a site adjacent to the Irish Hunger Memorial (on the lawns between that public space and the adjacent 300 Vesey Street building of Brookfield Place). Draft renderings of both of these prospective locations were displayed as Mr. Jones spoke. He added that the BPCA’s recommendation was for the site alongside the Irish Hunger Memorial.
Ms. Cuccia queried, “who did these designs?”
Mr. Jones replied, “the original concept was rendered by OGS.” This was a reference to the State’s Office of General Services, which manages real estate, construction, and procurement for a broad range of State agencies.
Ms. Meltzer asked, “based on what feedback? For example, if you look at the September 11 Memorial, this was designed not by a fancy firm, but by a September 11 survivor, who had also been an essential worker. This was why we had hoped there would be a large design competition, to give voices to others.”
Committee member Jeff Galloway noted that, “one of the reasons we’re having this problem is that Battery Park City is fully built out, according to a wonderful master plan. So literally every square inch has a current use. So any location you pick is going to change whatever that current use is. As we evaluate alternatives, we should apply some principles. One should be, whatever the positives are of the current use, they should not be erased by a memorial.” Another principle, he suggested, “would be not to replace a place of joy with a place of mourning.”
Mr. Tsunis agreed, saying, “we have come to the end of memorials in Battery Park City, because we are fully built out. We are suffering from memorial fatigue.” He noted however that plans for the Essential Workers’ Monument will proceed.
Mr. Galloway observed about one of the proposed locations that, “the volleyball court effectively functions as the town square of Battery Park City.”
Battery Park City Committee co-chair Kathy Gupta: “If there’s any way to step back from this Labor Day deadline, you’re going to have a much better, more respectful, more meaningful piece for the essential workers themselves.”
Kathy Gupta, the co-chair of the Battery Park City Committee, remarked on Governor Cuomo’s insistence that the Essential Workers Monument be completed by Labor Day (an interval that leaves just eight weeks for design and construction), saying, “I’m a September 11, survivor and spent three or four years of my life going to meetings for the design of the September 11 Museum. What really strikes me about this is the rushed process. One of the things we had a strong recognition of was that, in the grief and trauma of that moment, asking stakeholders who had no experience in creating memorials would not get you the best result in the end — unless they went through an educational process. We did, and that was enormously valuable, but it took time. So if there’s any way to step back from this Labor Day deadline, you’re going to have a much better, more respectful, more meaningful piece for the essential workers themselves.” This observation elicited applause from the attendees gathered in the room.
Ms. Gupta continued, “another issue is that this design doesn’t tell any story. It has all the usual elements — flag poles, a grove of trees, and an eternal flame. But if I bring my granddaughter back in ten years, how is she going to know that I was helped by nurses in a hospital, or that I helped social workers who were keeping mentally ill homeless women safe and alive?”
Ms. Meltzer raised the objection that, “Battery Park City already has more memorials than any other community in the entire State. But, as we have discussed many times, Battery Park City residents who died on September 11, and residents who died later from September 11-related illnesses, and those who continue to die from these diseases, are not memorialized with even a bench or a plaque anywhere in this community.” Growing visibly choked up, she said, “understand how I feel. This is not fair to the people who live here.”
Committee member Judith Weinstock said, “I agree that the State has a responsibility to honor essential workers, because we owe them so much. But what I disagree with is the Battery Park City Authority thinking they have the responsibility to do that here. This was an agreement between the BPCA and the Governor, with absolutely no input from the community. Residents have been completely boxed out of this process. The fact that the Authority would even consider ripping up green space is shocking. And it is also shocking that we are even talking about ripping up the volleyball court. There has been no transparency, and this has been a complete failure on the part of the BPCA.”
A rendering of one possible location for Governor Cuomo’s planned Essential Workers Monument, on Esplanade Plaza, which would have the effect of destroying the volleyball court on what CB1 member Jeff Galloway describes as, “the town square of Battery Park City.”
CB1 co-chair Alice Blank asked which communities other than Battery Park City were considered by the Advisory Commission that nominally guided Governor Cuomo’s choice of location. BPCA spokesman Nick Sbordone replied that other areas within New York City (but directly controlled by Albany, rather than City Hall) included Roberto Clemente State Park (in the Bronx, on the Harlem River waterfront), Roosevelt Island, and Riverbank State Park (on the Hudson River waterfront, near the George Washington Bridge). He did not have any information about how or why the Commission decided on Battery Park City.
Ms. Blank asked when the renderings being presented by the Battery Park City Authority were designed. Mr. Tsunis replied, “within the past week.”
Ms. Blank, an architect, replied “it is frightening that you are asking the public to consider designs that were put together in the last few days, for something as significant as this monument. I am amazed, and frankly appalled. We all are owed much more. I appreciate the significance of Labor Day as a milestone, but we are still very much in this pandemic. There is nothing that indicates to me any urgency to get this done by Labor Day of this year. It is not a small project. It should be done well. This is selling us all short. Postponing this until Labor Day of 2022 would allow for a well-considered design, by engaging with the community, and engaging with the design world.”
CB1 member Laura Starr, also an architect, suggested, “why not plan to do a temporary project for right now, like ‘The Gates?’” This was a reference to an acclaimed 2005 installation of 7,000-plus steel and vinyl portals (each adorned with a curtain of saffron-colored nylon) along 23 miles of pathways in Central Park, by the husband-and-wife artist team of Christo and Jeanne-Claude. It remained in place for 14 days. Ms. Starr argued that such an interim project would allow, “for a real design process and a process to find the proper site.”
She added, “these current designs are not designs. They’re not going to work. They’re not in character. And they’re going to wreck the landscape of Battery Park City.”
Above: This rendering illustrates the second location being considered for the Monument, on the rectangular lawns between the Irish Hunger Memorial and 300 Vesey Street. Below: Eric Gyasi, a leader of the protest, in Rockefeller Park on July 5.
Eric Gyasi, a Battery Park City resident and one of the leaders of protestors who banded together under the social-media banner of “Pause the Saws,” voiced concerns about, “the design, the process, and the speed.” He added that, “the design is an embarrassment. It doesn’t in any way capture the loss or the shared sacrifices of the essential workers. The Oklahoma City National Memorial”—at the site of the 1995 domestic terror bombing that claimed 168 lives—“received 624 designs. The World Trade Center Memorial and the Vietnam War Memorial both reflect the void left behind by the people who were lost.”
Robin Forst, a public member of CB1, said, “the BPCA has had a problem with public engagement ever since Andrew Cuomo became Governor, and it is pretty clear that the Office of General Services circumvented the usual process of issuing a ‘request for proposals’ for a project like this.”
Ms. Meltzer concurred, calling the Advisory Commission, “a black box. There is no phone number. There is no website. They have never met publicly. There is no way for us to obtain information from them, or to provide information to them. Did they ever vote? What were the results of that vote? Where are the minutes of their meetings?” Mr. Tsunis and other Battery Park City staff members indicated that they were not privy to the deliberations of the Advisory Commission.
At this point, Ms. Meltzer and Ms. Cuccia directed the same questions to Edgar Santana, the director of Downstate Regional Affairs for Governor Cuomo. Mr. Santana, who was seated at the back of the room, deflected all inquiries by repeatedly insisting that he was not authorized to speak, saying only that, “I will report back to the Governor’s office what I hear tonight.”
Ms. Cuccia concluded the discussion by saying that opening the Essential Workers Monument on Labor Day (which falls five days before the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001), “will be disruptive and disrespectful, and will dilute the impact, the importance of both the new Monument, and the September 11 observances.”
The Battery Park City Committee then drafted and voted to enact a resolution calling upon the BPCA and the Governor to modify their plans so that the Essential Workers Monument be slated for completion and opening on Labor Day, 2022 (rather than this year), and urging them to consider a temporary art installation for completion by this year’s Labor Day. The resolution also called for a robust and transparent approach to community engagement during the intervening 12 months, while additionally demanding a more careful and deliberative design process. The resolution again proposed that communities other than Battery Park City be considered for the permanent home of the Essential Workers Monument, while noting that if the project is to be built here, it should not include an eternal flame. Finally, the resolution did not endorse either of the proposed locations now under consideration by the BPCA, but insisted that the Authority commit to a ban on building any additional memorials within the community in the future.
To the editor,
Your reporting on this issue and the community’s engagement including the (NYPD) First Precinct give me hope for the future.
To the editor,
Much thanks to Governor Como and Battery Park City Authority Chairman Tsunis for their due diligence in protecting the Children’s Grove in Rockefeller Park.
With the ebbing of the pandemic crisis, it’s time to build back our community –– every community –– better. Here’s a list of converging shadows over our well-being on the southwestern tip of Manhattan: acknowledging and changing the 2069 property forfeiture and valuation reset terms for condo owners; coordinating a unified approach to addressing and financing Local Law 97 energy resiliency; designing for economical coastal resiliency; limiting the bond burden of the Battery Park City Authority; providing for expanded housing availability and affordability; building a new and diversified economy for Downtown and the country.
We’ve now seen how our state government, Battery Park City Authority, our civic leaders and every member of our community can come together to build a better and necessary future. The only way forward is to come together!
To the editor,
You wrote that “On Thursday, July 1, BPCA chairman George Tsunis ventured into the park to announce that the location of the planned monument would be changed. ‘It’s going to be a new site,’ Mr. Tsunis said. ‘This site is off the table.’ He continued, ‘we really did not understand the proximity and how many parents and children used this area. One mom explained, ‘I take out a picnic blanket and play with my kids here.’ That resonates. I’m a father.’
He added that the new location would be, ‘nowhere near where kids play, and not involve not taking down or replanting trees, and should be in a commercial area.'” The BPCA Chairman’s quoted statement is nothing less than damning. And this, for the information of our governor and the BPCA, is what happens when the people sitting on the BPCA are not required to live in BPC or have any personal or professional ties to the neighborhood. How can they possibly know —or care—what is important to those of us who live, work in and treasure this neighborhood and its parks and other amenities?
The people sitting on the BPCA need to have some “skin in the game” in the form of a residency requirement for a place on that authority or we will just continue to have our rights and concerns (ground rent, PILOT, spiraling property and rental costs, lack of affordable housing for seniors, and on and on and on…) overrun by Albany and Governor Cuomo’s donor class cronies. Time to stand up and take back our rights and power.
To the editor,
Just read the news article on the location of the essential workers monument.
Def not the volleyball court- it’s used by kids to ride their bikes and play. It’s where our kids Learnt to ride, roller skate etc. and Tai chi and dance in the summer on summer stage.
Especially in the pandemic, open space that is Not under control of Developers is at an all time low in NYC. During the pandemic we saw many open public spaces lost because developers decided on its fate. Kids in the city were bereft of open space at a time that it was most needed. The circle (pump house) park is an example. After renovation it’s posted with signs for no ball play etc….it’s freely used for Brookfield events, but not for open public use.
If anything as a dedication to essential workers, the governor should dedicate “NO more Memorials in BPC” dedication that stands for all times to come. And install a plaque along the waterfront at a few places to commemorate it.
Else it’s just an empty construction project that the Governor is using to reward his builder/construction buddies at the cost of real quality of life in BPC.
Lower Manhattan Greenmarkets are open
Greenwich St & Chambers St
Every Wednesday & Saturday, 8am-3pm
Food Scrap Collection: Saturdays, 8am-1pm
Bowling Green Greenmarket
Broadway & Whitehall St
Every Tuesday & Thursday, 8am-5pm
Food Scrap Collection: Tuesdays only, 8am-11am
The Greenmarket at Oculus Plaza, City Hall Greenmarket,
and Staten Island Ferry Greenmarket are temporarily closed.
July 7: Essential Workers’ Ticker Tape Parade featured one of the largest parades with 14 floats including Hospital Workers, Healthcare Workers, Education & Childcare, First Responders, Community Care, City Workers, Advocacy Organizations, Transportation, Hospitality & Building Care, Emergency Food, Communication & Delivery, Small Businesses & Bodega, Utilities, Reinforcements. photo: Dorothy Lipsky
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‘This Project Will Forever Be a Symbol of Failure’
Community Leaders React to Cuomo Plan for Yet Another Monument in Battery Park City
Governor Andrew Cuomo announced on Wednesday that he plans to erect in Battery Park City an Essential Workers Monument to those who served during the COVID-19 pandemic. “In the beginning of the pandemic, when people were told to stay home, essential workers went into work day after day, making sure their fellow New Yorkers were safe, fed and cared for,” Mr. Cuomo said.
The Governor attributed the decision to locate this monument in Battery Park City to his Essential Workers Monument Advisory Committee, which was announced in April. This panel consisted of 23 union presidents, and not a single resident of Battery Park City. There is no record of this Committee having held any public meetings, or having solicited any advice or feedback from the community. To read more…
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CLASSIFIEDS & PERSONALS
Swaps & Trades, Respectable Employment, Lost and Found
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.
9/11 Victim Compensation Fund Report
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.
1099 – First Crusade: 15,000 starving Christian soldiers march in religious procession around Jerusalem as its Muslim defenders look on.
1497 – Portuguese navigator Vasco da Gama departs on his first voyage, which leads him to become first European to reach India by sea.
1693 – The City of New York authorizes the first police uniforms in American colonies
1835 – The Liberty Bell cracked for the second time, while ringing after the death of Chief Justice John Marshall.
1836 – HMS Beagle carrying Charles Darwin reaches Saint Helena. Darwin’s almost five year voyage on the Beagle established his position as a respected naturalist and geologist. He stayed on the volcanic island of Saint Helena for six days as his last stop before returning to Great Britain.
1889 – Wall Street Journal is first published by the Dow Jones & Company. The company originally hand-delivered bulletins to traders at the stock exchange, which they later printed in a daily summary. Charles Dow, Edward Jones, and Charles Bergstresser converted the summary into the Wall Street Journal.
1932 – The Dow Jones Industrial Average is 41.22, the lowest it has ever been
1947 – Demolition begins for the United Nations Headquarters in Turtle Bay along the East River
1839 – John D Rockefeller, capitalist and founder of Standard Oil
1908 – Nelson A Rockefeller, Governor of New York and forty-first Vice President
810 – Pepin, son of Charlemagne, King of the Franks and of Italy and the first emperor since the fall of the Western Roman Empire, dies.
1898 – Jefferson Randolph “Soapy” Smith, American most famous con artist for his prize package soap sell racket at 37.