Tomorrow night (Tuesday, December 6), the Battery Park City Committee of Community Board 1 (CB1) will discuss plans by the Battery Park City Authority (BPCA) to redesign Wagner Park to strengthen it against future storm surges. The Committee will also hear a presentation by the design team from Perkins Eastman, the consulting firm hired by the Authority in 2015 to evaluate options for reconfiguring the park, for a fee of $238,000. (Of this amount, $162,000 has been spent thus far.)
This presentation will be a reprise of one that the Perkins Eastman team gave at the BCPA’s November 9 Open Community Meeting. During that session, Stanton Eckstut, who worked on Battery Park City’s master plan in the 1980s, said that when that plan was formulated, “the southern end of Battery Park City, at what is now Wagner Park, was the one place we knew the least about. There was a cutoff line at the edge of the property, and nobody had any sense of what would be the future of Pier A. So we didn’t really connect everything in the way we otherwise would have. The space has always been left over.
“We have a beautiful park and everyone loves it,” he continued, “but the reality is that Pier A has now made a difference. And Wagner Park is potentially a great front door. But it turns out to be one of the most sensitive places in all of Lower Manhattan. If we can find a way to lift it to keep floods out, we can do a great deal to protect Lower Manhattan. But I can assure you that none of us were thinking about that when we started this work.”
Another Perkins Eastman architect, Eric Fang, said, “Wagner Park is a critical location with respect to Lower Manhattan. With regard to topography, it’s a low point and with regard to its orientation to the bay and the river, it’s a hinge point.”
Mr. Fang noted that Perkins Eastman conducted an online survey of people who live and work in Battery Park City residents, as well as visitors to the community, in April and May of this year, which garnered 414 responses. The consultants also conducted separate outreach sessions with nearby stakeholders, such as the operators of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel, the leadership of the Museum for Jewish Heritage, and the management of the Pier A restaurant.
Mr. Eckstut noted that although the elevation required to hold back future flood waters is 15 feet, six inches, the highest point anywhere in Wagner Park is 11 feet, while Battery Place (the road behind Wagner Park) varies between five feet and nine feet. “The charge that was given to us was to focus on resiliency,” he added, noting that, “we have to find a way to keep water out.” He also noted, however, that, “nobody is proposing or has the money to start lifting the streets. That’s just not going to be possible.”
Turning to design concepts for storm-proofing the park, Mr. Eckstut said, “we love our Battery Park City Esplanade, but we never figured out where it was going when it got down to Wagner. It has an unfortunate edge, and comes to a hard stop near Pier A. We ought to be able to figure out how to make this continuous, by extending it across the inlet between Wagner Park and Pier A, and then around into Battery Park.”
He also noted, “everyone loves the lawns, but today we have a lawn with very few people unless there’s an event. We could do events on the grass if it were a little more sloped.”
Mr. Eckstut also noted a design anomaly in Wagner Park. “This is the only place in Battery Park City, except for the two coves, where the Esplanade is not built all the way out to the federal pier-head line.” (This was a reference to the legal boundary beyond which artificial structures, such as piers or landfill, may not be built into navigable waters.) “That means that we can extend the edge of the Esplanade with a floating dock and a gate, which would allow boats devoted to educational or cultural uses to tie up there.”
Turning to the pavilion that currently occupies much of Wagner Park (and houses Gigino Restaurant), Mr. Eckstut said, “there are code and maintenance issues with that building. And the restrooms are bigger than Bryant Park’s, which draws a lot of outside visitors, like tour buses. So the replacement of building needs to be considered.” But he added, “nobody is proposing reducing the park or making the building bigger.” Instead, he projected that a rebuilt structure could include smaller restrooms, a larger restaurant (which would more than double in size, from 2,400 to 6,000 square feet), and more storage space for Battery Park City Parks staff, “and would all fit within the footprint of the current building.”
Envisioning strategies for holding back flood waters, Mr. Eckstut offered the example of permanent, decorative vertical columns, between which flood gates can be temporarily deployed. (An example of this technique is at the Washington Harbor development, in Georgetown.) “This will allow us to maintain the openness and views that people love about Wagner Park,” he said.
While a resiliency plan for Wagner Park will be welcomed by many, some observers may question its usefulness in the absence of a larger plan for surrounding areas. Even if a storm-proofing design for Wagner Park were 100 percent effective, flood waters would simply flow around the park and inundate nearby, unprotected neighborhoods. The images that Mr. Eckstut and Mr. Fang displayed during their November 9 presentation clearly show demarcations for such projects in at least two other sections of the waterfront: the Battery Park City Esplanade, to the north of Wagner Park, and Historic Battery Park, to the south. But no plans for either have been publicly announced. These gaps in local resiliency planning are echoed in the wider context of Lower Manhattan as a whole, where funding is in place only for one section of the Lower East Side. No comprehensive plan has yet been unveiled for the South Street Seaport, the Financial District, Battery Park City, or Tribeca.
Ninfa Segarra, chair of CB1’s Battery Park City Committee, will preside over the meeting tomorrow (Tuesday) at which the Perkins Eastman study will be discussed. Ms. Segarra observed that, “resiliency is a cornerstone issue for coastline communities like Battery Park City. My concern is that there seems to be multiple tracks occurring that don’t add up to a holistic plan.”
Ms. Segarra continued, “the mayor’s Task Force is supposed to be the place to pull all plans together for Lower Manhattan. But the BPCA in 2014 contracted with Parsons Transportation to conduct an infrastructure assessment to determine resiliency mitigation measures. It is the end of 2016 and that report has never been made public. Yet a separate contractor — Perkins Eastman — has been hired to do a separate resiliency study about Wagner Park. It looks like a lot of expensive floating pieces without a core focus.”
Tomorrow’s meeting of CB1’s Battery Park City Committee will be held at a venue closer to home than usual for Battery Park City residents: the new campus of Metropolitan College of New York, at 60 West Street (near the corner of Rector Street), in the first-floor community room, starting at 6:00 pm. This meeting is open to the public, and all concerned residents are invited to attend.