Brookfield releases plans for W.F.C. makeover


BY Aline Reynolds

The World Financial Center is due for a makeover in a few years’ time. Brookfield Properties, who owns and operates the office complex, plans to renovate the center’s first two floors in attempt to facilitate pedestrian circulation and encourage retail and dining. The findings resulted from a two-year study by Brookfield.

“The World Financial Center will be the new consolidated pedestrian transit for Lower Manhattan, connecting Battery Park City to and from the New York City transit system,” said Lawrence Graham, a vice president for Brookfield, at last Monday night’s Community Board 1 World Trade Center Redevelopment Committee meeting. Graham and two Brookfield colleagues presented the renovation plans to the committee.

The W.F.C.’s Winter Garden will be expanded by 30 percent, providing more space for arts and entertainment performances as well as public seating, Graham said. A new glass pavilion sheltering the Winter Garden will be climate-controlled and filter in natural light. New escalators will allow people to travel between the first and second floors. The Brookfield officials said they will solicit recommendations from C.B. 1 members for desired uses of the refurbished space.

The Winter Garden will also connect to the World Trade Center’s new transportation hub via a corridor underneath West Street to accommodate the 30,000 daily commuters that work in the W.F.C.

The Vesey Street bridge, a pedestrian overpass above West Street, will be taken down in late 2012 or early 2013, around the time that the underground corridor is completed, according to Bud Grebey from Maloney and Fox communications, the firm representing Brookfield. 

“The reality is, for the first time, [most] pedestrians will be entering the Winter Garden at street level,” previously accessing the W.F.C. on the second floor via the Vesey and South Bridges, said Grebey.

Brookfield will also make room for a 700-seat food market on the W.F.C.’s first floor, modeled after the eatery in the Ferry Building Marketplace in San Francisco.

The Battery Park City Authority, the owner of the property, must approve the plans before Brookfield begins the renovations.

“I think it’s a terrific plan,” said committee member Elizabeth Williams. Catherine McVay Hughes, chair of the committee, called the proposal “very impressive.” 

The Winter Garden’s grand marble staircase will be removed. Retaining it, Graham said, is not an option, because pedestrians entering the building via the underground corridor would run into an 88-foot supporting wall. This, the officials said, would cause pedestrian choke points on each sides of the staircase.

Some committee members were upset to hear the news. “I’d really hate to see them go,” said B.P.C. resident and C.B. 1 member Bill Love, who has been encouraging Brookfield to keep the staircase since word began to spread last summer. “They’re an iconic structure and a great benefit to the community in terms of performance space.”

“We like those stairs too – we rebuilt them after 9/11,” Graham replied. 

“Was this the more economical approach?” Hughes asked.

Keeping the stairs in tact would have been the less expensive option, Graham said, but it would hinder smooth pedestrian traffic flow in and around the Winter Garden.  

Other committee members were resigned to the idea. Williams said she has fond memories of the stairs, such as teaching her kids how to walk on them, but that, “We have to in a way move on.”