Lowline is riding high after city gives qualified O.K. to underground park

Courtesy NYC Economic Development Corporation A rendering of the Lowline underground park, with sunlight that is directed down into it by fiber-optic cables and then reflected around the space.
Courtesy NYC Economic Development Corporation
A rendering of the Lowline underground park, with sunlight that is directed down into it by fiber-optic cables and then reflected around the space.

BY COLIN MIXSON | Talk about low-hanging fruit!

The city’s Economic Development Corporation gave its tacit blessing for the start of preliminary work on what’s been billed as the “world’s first underground park” on the Lower East Side.

The proposed Lowline park would utilize cutting-edge solar technology to transform the vacant Williamsburg Bridge Trolley Terminal into a verdant underground paradise, complete with plants, grass and trees, according to the project’s co-founder.

The old terminal is currently owned by the city and leased to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. It is roughly 60,000 square feet and runs underneath Delancey St. between Clinton and Norfolk Sts.

“We couldn’t be more thrilled for this opportunity to turn a magical dream into reality,” said Dan Barasch, co-founder of the Lowline.

The Lowline would take advantage of custom-made solar technology to illuminate the subterranean garden, and provide plants with the solar juice they require to perform photosynthesis.

The underground tech would be powered by remote-controlled solar collections disks located topside, which could be adjusted to follow the sun’s path throughout the year.

The solar light would then be funneled down into the space along fiber-optic cables, before being reflected off of subterranean domes onto park patrons and the underground green stuff below.

Being underground, the Lowline would be shielded from seasonal weather conditions, and would provide an all-year attraction for locals and tourists, according to Councilmember Margaret Chin.

“From the beginning, the Lowline has been about transforming an abandoned space by literally shining the light of day to create a lush and verdant center of science, technological innovation and learning,” Chin said.

Last fall, E.D.C., in collaboration with the M.T.A., issued a Request for Expressions of Interest, or R.F.E.I., seeking ideas for activating the space and offering a long-term lease. The city ultimately gave its nod to the Lowline proposal, which was certainly the most widely known plan for the space. However, Bowery Boogie reported that, in fact, there actually were no responses to the R.F.E.I. other than the Lowline plan. Some local activists, including housing advocate Damaris Reyes of GOLES (Good Old Lower East Side) had called for a more robust process in finding a use for the space.

However, the approval is only “conditional,” and requires the Lowline team to overcome several planning and fiscal hurdles before moving forward.

Among other things, the team must formulate and implement a community-engagement plan, which must include five to 10 public design charrettes and quarterly “community engagement committee” meetings.

The city is also requiring the Lowline group to raise $10 million and provide schematic designs for approval, both within 12 months. Currently, there are no plans for the park — which would be free and open to the public — to receive consistent government funding.

Before receiving E.D.C.’s approval, the project was endorsed by Community Board 3 in a resolution that praised the designers’ technical innovation.

“For over a century, the Lower East Side has been at the crossroads of innovation and community engagement,” said Jamie Rogers, the board’s new chairperson last week. “In its June 2012 resolution, C.B. 3 supported converting the Williamsburg trolley terminal space into the Lowline park, a 21st-century amenity that serves our community.”

The Lowline team hopes to open their park the public in 2021.