New report says Downtown’s long-term future is bright

A conference at 7 World Trade Center last week put an optimistic spin on Lower Manhattan’s future, even as the failure of financial firms threw the present into doubt.

The conference centered on a new report called “Downtown 2020,” researched by local professors, which predicts a continued resurgence of the area’s commercial and residential population. One reason for the optimism is that the report is based on 2007 research and went to press before the current financial crisis hit, but the researchers who spoke April 7 said they think their positive conclusions still hold — even if the predictions may take a little longer to come true.

“We think things are going to turn around,” said Peter Salins of Stony Brook University. “For Downtown to reach its full potential, we have to invest now — not when things are fine.”

The report, funded by the Steven L. Newman Real Estate Institute and Baruch College’s business school, includes adding more mass-transit options like continuing the proposed westward extension of the 7 train down to Lower Manhattan’s west side. Other ideas include better pedestrian connections, particularly at the West St. crossings; improving access to the waterfront; building new office space beyond what is planned for the World Trade Center and bringing the historic heritage of the neighborhoods to the surface.

The report endorsed some ideas residents have been advocating for years — including strict limits on government parking placards — and also introduced some new ideas, like connecting Chinatown development to the growing importance of China in the global market. One idea residents may not readily approve is to create a cabaret and nightlife district in Greenwich South, just south of the World Trade Center site, an area that is becoming increasingly residential.

Michael Levine, director of land use and planning for Community Board 1, said the board already has enough problems with clubs in North Tribeca and would not want to see any more in the district.

Levine said Downtown 2020’s economic and transportation analysis was strong, but he would have liked to see more planning for community centers, grocery stores, libraries and museums. It’s important to make Downtown the right kind of 24/7 community — meaning more cultural institutions and fewer nightclubs, Levine said.

— Julie Shapiro