LMDC’s Legacy

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Courtesy WEISS / MANFREDI
Weiss/Manfrediis concept design for Park Row introduces a landscaped, terraced pedestrain connection to the elevated Police Plaza.

The mandate of the LMDC, formed by Governor George Pataki and Mayor Rudolph Giuliani in the aftermath of 9/11, was not only to oversee the rebuilding of the WTC site but to spearhead the comprehensive, integrated urban renewal of all of Lower Manhattan. To that end, it commissioned several major urban studies in areas below Canal Street by top-tier design firms, and encouraged them to truly think big-picture about rebuilding downtown. Weiss/ Manfredi, H3 Hardy Collaborative Architects, Robert A. M. Stern, and Smith-Miller + Hawkinson were all awarded contracts, amounting to over $2 million in fees, according to research compiled by AN at the time of these particular planss completion in 2004 (see World Trade Windfall,, AN 19_11.16.2004). When the LMDC announced last July that it would dissolve in the months to come, it maintained that its primary responsibilitiess selecting a masterplan and memorial design for the WTC site and allocating more than $2.78 billion in federal grants toward fostering business, residential, and cultural growth downtownnhad been fulfilled. Construction of the memorial and development of urban design guidelines for the site has been since delegated to the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey, but the fate of the urban studies the LMDC initiated has been more difficult to assess.

The LMDC was never intended to be the agency that implemented such plans. Moreover, there is never a guarantee that any commission will translate into a realized work. But the fact that so little has been publicly discussed with respect to urban design at the WTC site or its surrounding neighborhoods since 9/11 merits a closer look at these plans, and at how or whether the ideas they propose might be expressed in built form.

According to LMDC spokesperson John DeLibero, all of the above-mentioned plans have been transferred to the Department of City Planning (DCP). Rachaele Raynoff, DCP press secretary, confirmed that the DCP is in possession of them but could not specify how the plans are being prioritized. At present, the DCPPs biggest initiative in Lower Manhattan is the East River Waterfront Study by SHoP Architects and the Richard Rogers Partnership.

One piece of news that gives reason to be optimistic that the plans wonnt end up in a drawer is Mayor Bloomberg and Governor Patakiis announcement in May 2005 of a comprehensive allocation plann for the LMDCCs unspent $800 million. The plan earmarked $110 million to implement certain elements of the LMDCCs urban plans, including the studies conducted by Weiss/ Manfredi, H3, and Stern. For some of the designers, the announcement was the last concrete news they received regarding their projects.

Raynoff confirmed that the DCP, together with the Department of Transportation (DOT), is currently studying one aspect of Weiss/ Manfrediis larger plan, which looked at the area surrounding the Brooklyn Bridge Anchorage (see A View from the Bridge,, AN 10_6.08.2005). The plan envisions connecting Chinatown to the seaport through streetscaping, and makes specific recommendations for reinvigorating the closed-off area under the Brooklyn Bridge and replacing the concrete retaining wall behind Police Plaza on Park Row with a grassy, stepped pedestrian path to connect the elevated plaza with the street.

After the architects presented the plan to the LMDC in 2005, the LMDC and other consulting city agencies focused on their recommendations for Park Row as a feasible project. Shortly after, as part of Mayor Bloomberg and Governor Patakiis allocation plan, $32 million was granted to fund components of their study and a related Chinatown study, including Park Row. As of yet, however, the DCP and DOT have not announced any concrete plans or schedule for the project.


Courtesy H3 HARDY COLLABORATION ARCHITECTURE
H33s design for Greenwich Street South proposed roofing over the entrance to the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel to create a park along with new residential and commerical space.

Aspects of the Greenwich Street South Study, developed by a team of seven design and consulting firms headed by H3 Hardy Collaborative Architects, also appear to have a promising future. This study proposes decking over the existing entry to the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel (owned by the MTA), which currently separates Battery Park City South from the financial district south of the WTC site. The plan suggests that the new surface area of the deck would create valuable buildable space in an area where opportunities for largescale development no longer exist. In that new space, it recommends the creation of a 2-acre park surrounded by residential and commercial developments, as well as a bus garage south of Morris Street that would decrease current street-level congestion and house buses that might be displaced by potential developments on the East River Waterfront and Pier 40.

At H33s last meeting with the LMDC in September, attending city officials agreed that if the engineering required to build the deck could be coordinated, the MTA would revisit the proposals. The DCP anticipates working with the Governor Eliot Spitzerrs administration to realize this plan. Though the prospects for the plan seem positive, principal designer Hugh Hardy still worried, With the fading of the LMDC, [the plan] doesnnt have a champion.. Senior associate John Fontillas added, The unfortunate thing is that [the LMDCCs former vice president of planning and development] Alex Garvin intended for all of these parts to knit together. With personnel changing, therees little institutional memory.. Though the designers have not received any updates on the status of the plan, it has been allotted $40 million under the 2005 Bloomberg-Pataki initiative.

By comparison, aspects of Sternns Fulton Street Revitalization seem to be moving forward. With $38 million (again, part of Bloomberg and Patakiis 2005 initiative) approved by the LMDC board of directors in February 2006, the parts of the plan that have been retained for implementation, according to the DCP, include: enhancing the 35,000-square-foot Titanic Memorial Park and Pearl Street Playground, both set for completion in 2008; improving retail, facades, and streetscape elements along Fulton toward the East River; and creating a new open space at corner of Fulton and Gold streets. It is difficult to know, however, how close these elements are to the original design recommendations of Stern and partner on the study, Gensler. A public presentation of the study in 2005 was cancelled at the last minute, and even then, the plan was reportedly only in draft form (see Fulton Street Plan Chugs Along,, AN 12_7.13.05). Moreover, both then and now, the designers have declined to comment, barred by the LMDC from speaking about the plan.


COURTESY SMITH-MILLER+HAWKINSON ARCHITECTS
Louise Nevelson Plaza is the result of a larger study by Smith-Miller + Hawkinson Architects to identify open-space possibilities in the blocks east of the WTC site. View west toward William Street.

The most tangible results from any of the studies are from Smith-Miller + Hawkinsonns comprehensive urban study Strategic Open Space: Public Realm Improvement Strategy for Lower Manhattan. The study, which won a P/A Award in 2003, canvassed 500 acres of Lower Manhattan in the area roughly bound by Fulton, Church, and Water streets to identify possibilities for creating new public spaces and bolstering existing ones. One site, Louise Nevelson Plaza, a run-down traffic island at the corner of William and Liberty, stood out as a feasible location to move forward on right away. The architects worked with the LMDC and other consulting city agencies to draft construction documents, and had successfully gone through the majority of the approval process well before the LMDC began to phase out. Since the LMDCCs dissolution, the Department of Design and Construction has taken over execution of the project, and has folded it in among its general infrastructure improvements on Liberty Street.

The design for the plaza involves a series of changes meant to create, in principal Laurie Hawkinsonns words, a 24/7 open spacee in an emerging mixed-use neighborhood. The park will feature benches of cast glass, new lighting and planting, and seven restored Nevelson sculptures that the artist herself donated to the park in the 1970s. The project will break ground this summer, and is expected to be completed in 2009.

The LMDC has never been forthcoming about its undertakings, despite the fact that these compelling urban design studies are nothing to hide. Even now, no one from the LMDCC including Kevin Rampe, chair of the LMDC boarddwill comment on the planss respective fates. The arrival of Governor Spitzer, who has been critical of the way the LMDC has been operating, may bring a change in direction. A. J. Carter, spokesperson for Empire State Development Corporation, the LMDCCs parent body, offered, We are taking a fresh look at everything and re-evaluating whatts been done and what needs to be done as we get started with the [Spitzer] Administration..

SAMANTHA TOPOL IS AN EDITOR AT AN.

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