The founder of Battery Park City has proposed naming its last major piece of infrastructure in honor of a longtime civic champion of Lower Manhattan. Charles Urstadt, the founding president and chairman of the Battery Park City Authority, in a speech delivered at a January 28 dinner celebrating the twentieth anniversary of the Downtown Alliance, said of Alliance chairman Robert Douglass, “my friend has one character trait that makes him ill-suited for public life: modesty. For that reason, I fear he will disagree with a proposal that I am going to ask all of you to consider. The transilience of Lower Manhattan is creating buildings, streets, and infrastructure projects that cry out for a name worthy of a transformed landscape. Among them is the pedestrian bridge that will soon be erected over West Street, near the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel. One of these should bear the name of the man without whom none of this would have been possible: Robert R. Douglass.”
Afterward, Mr. Urstadt explained, “Bobby Douglass has spent 40 years advocating for the cause of Lower Manhattan, and contributing to its future. Battery Park City would not be here if he had not fought for it as chief of staff to Governor Nelson Rockfeller.” Mr. Douglass also pushed to appoint Mr. Urstadt as the Battery Park City first chairman and president, a post from which he oversaw the creation of 92 acres of landfill along the Hudson River waterfront, and the development and planning of the first building projects in the new neighborhood. “And after Governor Rockefeller left office,” Mr. Urstadt continued, “Bobby moved to the Downtown-Lower Manhattan Association (DLMA), and the Downtown Alliance, where he has worked for decades to encourage the renaissance that we now see taking place in Lower Manhattan.”
As chair of the DLMA (and its subsidiary, the Alliance), Mr. Douglass has been a tireless advocate for government policies, as well as public-private partnerships, designed to benefit the Lower Manhattan community. He has served in both of these posts without salary for the entirety of his tenure.
“In 2013,” Mr. Urstadt recalled, “the City renamed a park in the Financial District after Elizabeth Berger, who served as president of the Alliance for six years, which made sense. But it makes the same kind of sense to honor Bobby Douglass, who has served this community for decades.” He added, “we have a park in Battery Park City named for Nelson Rockefeller, who started it all, so it just seems right to honor Bobby Douglass, without whom Battery Park City wouldn’t exist and the wider rejuvenation of Lower Manhattan wouldn’t be taking place. His contribution needs to be recognized.”
The project that Mr. Urstadt proposes to name in Mr. Douglass’s honor is the planned West Thames pedestrian bridge, the design for which calls for 240-foot long “lenticular truss,” which will stretch diagonally across the intersection of West and West Thames Streets, from the southwest corner on the Battery Park City side, to the northeast corner near the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel, where a new residential tower is currently under construction.
Such a bridge was first proposed in the early 1990s, but the plan took on a new urgency almost a decade ago, as a permanent replacement for the Rector Place pedestrian bridge, which was erected as a “temporary” span after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. (The Rector Place bridge was originally intended to be demolished within two years of its opening, but is now 13 years old.) The Battery Park City Authority initially hoped that the completion of the West Thames Bridge would coincide with the first day of school at P.S./I.S. 276, which opened in 2009. The plan was revived again in 2010, when the bridge was given a new opening date of late-2014, but a succession of designs and changes caused the project to languish. In 2013, discussion began once more, but was followed by a year-long impasse during which various government agencies squabbled over funding. Most recently, last November, the Planning Committee of Community Board 1 approved a change proposed by the City’s Public Design Commission (which must sign off on all architecture that will occupy City-owned property) to remove planned canopies from the staircases that will approach both ends of the bridge. Planning for the bridge is ongoing, but there is currently no firm date for the start of construction.