Chatham Square reconstruction slated for next year


By Julie Shapiro

The city’s plans for Chatham Square have been on the table for several years, but they are gaining momentum and detail as next summer’s groundbreaking approaches. Many residents, in turn, are ramping up their criticisms of the street reconfiguration.

“We’re going to be surrounded by construction,” said Jeanie Chin, of the Civic Center Residents Coalition. “I think this would be a disaster. … We can’t afford to dig up the streets again.”

Starting in about seven months, the city plans to realign Chatham Square’s five-way intersection based on the assumption that Park Row, which was closed after 9/11 to protect 1 Police Plaza, will not reopen anytime soon. The city Department of Transportation will also add a pedestrian promenade along Park Row and green space to Chatham Square. The project will cost roughly $50 million and will finish in summer 2012.

“It’s something that’s overdue,” said Josh Kraus, who works for D.O.T.’s Lower Manhattan borough commissioner. “We’ve had an ad-hoc system in place since 2001, and it’s time for us to make changes.”

The city will break Chatham Square into two separate intersections, aligning East Broadway with Worth St. and the Bowery with St. James Place. A new pedestrian promenade on Park Row’s east side will run from Chatham Square to the Brooklyn Bridge, framed with cherry trees, tall grass and curved red benches.

“We’ve tried to make this read and feel like a gateway to Chinatown,” Kraus said.

But Chin and others object to the project because they see Chatham Square as a critical intersection and are worried that closing it for construction will back up traffic on Worth St., one of Lower Manhattan’s few unobstructed east-west connectors.

“We don’t see the urgency of having to do Chatham Square right now,” said Paul Lee, a former Chinatown business owner.

Lee wants the city to wait until the economy improves so businesses are not hit with construction at the same time that sales are dropping.

“It’s never easy when there is construction,” said D.O.T.’s Kraus. “We do the best we can to minimize disruptions to the community.”

Small businesses in Chatham Square will be eligible for the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation’s Small Firm Assistance Program, which compensates businesses on streets closed by construction.

Chatham Square will also get a 20,000-square-foot triangular plaza between Mott St. and the Bowery. The plaza’s center will have a water feature with trees and seating, open space around it and perimeter plantings.

Additionally, the city will upgrade the security barriers around Park Row, making them permanent and more similar to bollards elsewhere in the city.

Kraus said the city has already taken community input into consideration in making changes to the plan. Park Row, now two lanes in each direction, was slated to go to one lane in each direction. But the community was worried that narrowing Park Row that much would cause backups at the entrance checkpoint. D.O.T. decided to keep two lanes entering Park Row from Chatham Square, so buses and residents will be able to enter even while the Police Department screens trucks off to the side.

Also based on community feedback, D.O.T. decided to keep a lane open on the west side of the Bowery for deliveries during the day and parking at night.

Money for the project will come from the city and possibly L.M.D.C., which conducted the early planning for the Chatham Square changes.

The project’s broad strokes are final, but the city still wants community input on the landscaping and open-space changes. Residents had the chance to weigh in at a town-hall meeting held by Community Board 3 on Tues., Dec. 2, at P.S. 124 at 40 Division St.