Construction in motion at the Poets House


By Julie Shapiro

When Lee Briccetti looks at the Poets House under construction in Battery Park City, she sees more than the bare concrete and swinging light bulbs.

She sees reading nooks and overstuffed couches, high-tech recording equipment and views of the Statue of Liberty framed in velvet curtains. The Poets House won’t open in its new River Terrace home until September, but for Briccetti, the executive director, the progress is finally palpable.

“We’re so excited to almost be there,” Briccetti said as she led Downtown Express and Poets House supporters on a hardhat tour last week.

The move this fall will be a big step up for the 50,000 volume poetry library, co-founded by Stanley Kunitz: At 11,000 square feet, the Poets House’s new space in the Riverhouse condo building is more than five times bigger than its old space on Spring St.

The new space was supposed to open several months earlier, but Poets House did not get control of it until the end of last fall, which was later than expected.

Money won’t be a problem, Briccetti said, as Poets House has about $9.5 million in pledges or in hand for the $11 million project, along with financing to bridge any gaps.

Visitors will enter Poets House into a double-height ground-floor space with a glassed-in exhibit and a sweeping staircase leading to the second floor. Briccetti wants to project verses of poetry onto the sidewalk in front of Poets House, inviting people in.

The first floor will house an auditorium that fits 105 people during the winter and even more when one wall opens out into the new southern Teardrop Park under construction. Layers of bluestone will form an amphitheater for people to sit outside during free summertime events. The Poets House will record all readings and discussions for its archives.

Also on the first floor, the sunny new children’s room will replace the cramped one on Spring St. that was once a storage closet.

“We’re trying to create a place where books and people bump into each other,” Briccetti said.

Upstairs, a series of windowed spaces unfold from the most social to the most quiet. Anyone can stop in for free and read on the couches, which have a view of the harbor and B.P.C.’s new ferry terminal. Farther off is a clear view of the Statue of Liberty, “Our national monument literally standing on poetry,” Briccetti said, referring to the Emma Lazarus poem inscribed on the statue’s base.

The room with the best view is the Stanley Kunitz conference room, where Poets House will hold small workshops. The space was originally going to be Briccetti’s office, but she said a vista that good “must be shared.”

The second floor will also have compressible stacks, giving the Poets House plenty of room to grow its collection with a copy of every volume of poetry published each year.

The Battery Park City Authority earmarked space for three nonprofits in the Riverhouse condo building: the Poets House, Mercy Corps and New York Public Library. Mercy Corps opened the Action Center to End World Hunger in the building last fall, and the public library is coming in 2010. The condo building will also house a branch of City Bakery.

Poets House left its old Spring St. space in 2007, moving its offices temporarily to Broadway and its books to storage in New Jersey. Until the Riverhouse space opens, Poets House is holding programs around the city, including workshops in Manhattan Youth’s Downtown Community Center and outdoor events in Battery Park City once it gets warmer.