The Battery Park City Authority (BPCA) has extended the contract for Perkins Eastman, the consultant that devised the resiliency assessment for Wagner Park, aspects of which have inspired concerns among some community leaders. The firm was hired in 2015 for an initial fee of $238,000. At its May 22 board meeting, the Authority extended this contract through the end of 2017, and authorized the payment of an additional $233,000. This appears to mean that Perkins Eastman will be paid, during the course of the coming six months, nearly as much as it has during the last 18 months.
At the May 22 meeting, BPCA president Shari Hyman began by explaining, “Perkins, which did the Wagner Park resiliency study, has been our consultant. We’ve been very happy with what they’ve been doing. And part of the reason we want to increase their contract amount by $233,000 is because the nature of the community outreach has been going well. They have been willing to go well beyond what was originally considered in the scope. They have been at community board meetings. They have been at our meetings with the community. They have been in stakeholder presentations. And they’ve actually gone back and done reassessments based on input, and also reengineering, to get us to the next stage of where we’re going to hopefully issue a Request for Proposals for design. So we are looking to increase Perkins’ contract.”
After Ms. Hyman’s presentation, BPCA chairman Dennis Mehiel asked, “you want to go for the remainder of this year. But again, you’ve increased their work — you’ve doubled it.”
“At least, I’d have to say,” Ms. Hyman assured him.
BPCA board member Lester Petracca observed, “I know Perkins is very good,” after which the Authority’s board unanimously voted to approve extending the firm’s contract, and raising its fee.
Later, during the public comment period of the meeting, Battery Park City resident Justine Cuccia rose to speak. “I want to begin by acknowledging some of the great work done by the BPCA,” she said. “The resiliency plan that Gwen Dawson and Joe Ganci put together puts this community years ahead of every other Lower Manhattan neighborhood in preparation for sea-level rise and future extreme-weather events,” she added, in a reference to a separate plan, which provides a conceptual framework for protecting the entire community from future extreme-weather events. (Ms. Dawson it the BPCA’s vice president of real property. Mr. Ganci is the Authority’s director of design.)
“You are so far ahead of everybody else, which is wonderful,” she continued. “However, I want to make this board aware of concerns expressed by residents and community leaders about the Wagner Park portion of the resiliency program. The designs by Perkins Eastman are widely considered a non-starter with the community. I’m not sure if you’re all aware of that. This plan will vastly expand a restaurant space at public expense. It is going to create a massive obstruction to a beloved view of the harbor, and needlessly take away public space.”
These were references to a contentious facet of the plan devised by Perkins Eastman, which envisions demolishing the current Wagner Park pavilion, and replacing it with a multi-story structure that will also have a roof deck. These enhancements, along with the elimination of the arched passageway that provides a framed view of the Statue of Liberty in the current structure, will enable an expansion from the pavilion’s present size of 7,825 square feet to as much as 17,000 square feet. Under this plan, the restaurant space within the structure, which currently houses Gigino’s, would grow from the current 3,450 square feet to as much as 10,000 square feet.
Replacing the Pavilion is a single component (albeit a central one) of the Wagner Park plan, other aspects of which have garnered praise from community leaders. Indeed, the plan was modified and significantly scaled back between its initial presentation to the Battery Park City Committee of Community Board 1 (CB1) last December, and a follow-up session in April. Among the changes were the removal of elements that some Committee members feared would draw more tourists to the already-overcrowded park.
After the April meeting, Battery Park City Committee chair Ninfa Segarra said to the Perkins team, “I want to thank you for taking into consideration the community’s concerns about making this design a little softer. It’s clear that you heard us and that you listened.” Committee member Tom Goodkind added, “We were pretty rough on you last time and you really listened. I think it’s really going to be a great new southern Battery Park City.”
But concerns about demolishing the Pavilion remain. On the day following the BPCA meeting at which the Perkins Eastman contract was renewed, CB1 enacted a resolution that noted, “[CB1] appreciates that some of the concerns raised by the Committee in December were reflected in the plan presented in April,” but also observed that, “a significant part of the Perkins Eastman plan for Wagner Park is focused on the Pavilion building, and would replace the current structure with a new building that would be more enclosed and bulkier, with more programmed and fewer open areas.”
The same resolution added, “it has not been made clear to members of the Committee why the existing structure, which was built in 1994, must be replaced by a new building, or why the new building is necessary” and “the Committee is concerned about the expansion of the commercial elements in the proposed building given the character and nature of Wagner Park, which should be preserved in any new design, particularly with a sprawling commercial space nearby at Pier A.”
The resolution concluded with the admonition that, “CB1 requests that the BPCA work closely with the community as it develops and revises its plans for the entire BPC waterfront including Wagner Park and the Pavilion building, and includes input from the Committee throughout the process until a final plan is produced.”
The need for closer collaboration between the BPCA and community leaders provided the context for Ms. Cuccia’s remarks at the May 22 BPCA board meeting. She acknowledged that, after the December meeting, “the Perkins team did come back and incorporate some of the concerns of the community into the plan. But those concerns still include the extent of the renovation at Wagner Park. Everything else about the resiliency plan is beautiful and amazing and thoughtful and so well done.”
But she also focused on the BPCA’s decision to renew its consulting agreement with Perkins Eastman and to increase the firm’s fee, without any input from community leaders. “What is of concern to me,” Ms. Cuccia explained, “is the contract that has just been approved and extended. I’m not necessarily saying that you shouldn’t approve or extend the contract. But what I’m asking for is more communication with the residents and the Community Board, and more collaboration before you decide to double their contract and go to that expense, when the cost is not for resiliency. It’s for a restaurant and a building.”
“I understand there are things have to be done,” she noted. “I understand, from listening to Gwen’s presentation, that the BPCA itself needs more space for Parks operations and storage. That’s all reasonable and should be taken care of. The bathrooms in Wagner Park needs to be fixed. That should be taken care of. I am just asking this board to look into this a little bit further.”
(Editor’s Note: Ms. Cuccia is related to the reporter who wrote this story.)