State shelves West St. play space idea

By Skye H. McFarlane

Old wounds reopened Tuesday night when the Battery Park City Committee met to hear plans for the future of the West St. parkland.

While the Hudson River Park Trust proposed bringing a Greenmarket to the space, it was clear that board members were still seeing red over interference by state and city agencies during Promenade South’s development — snags they claim have made the finished product unappealing and impractical for the community.

“Any way you look at it, it looks like some sort of Stalinist architecture,” said Jeff Galloway, co-chairperson of the committee. “There’s no human element.”

Promenade South, a wide granite walkway that stretches from W. Thames St. down to Battery Pl., sits atop a sliver of city-owned land between West St. and Battery Park City, which is managed by the state. The promenade officially opened in July, but finishing touches on the property won’t be completed until a few weeks from now, at which point the New York State Department of Transportation will turn the space over to the Trust, a state-city authority.

With the changeover in mind, the Trust’s Connie Fishman pitched the idea of bringing a weekly farmers’ market to the stony expanse.

“It’s a big wide place with not very much going on with it,” Fishman said of the walkway. “There’s room for a market…And everyone in Battery Park City complains that there’s no way to get to any sort of a decent grocery store.”

While the board greeted the Greenmarket concept with tepid enthusiasm, the subject sparked a spirited debate over the promenade’s lack of active recreation. Due to the swelling population and limited play space in Battery Park City, Community Board 1 has been pushing for exercise stations along the walkway and state D.O.T. officials were receptive to the idea. According to several attendees of Tuesday night’s meeting, this idea was privately discouraged by Governor George Pataki, who envisioned a “grand promenade” ushering thousands of pedestrian tourists from the World Trade Center site down to Battery Park.

A second development plan, which included functional artwork like sculptural seating areas and a climbable rock garden, was vetoed by the city’s Art Commission last March. Also using the phrase “grand promenade,” the Art Commission dismissed the recreational art on aesthetic grounds, leaving benches and stone planters as the promenade’s only design features.

“We were told it was going to be active recreation,” said local resident Helene Seeman. “Now, our children have nowhere to go.”

To try and remedy the situation, the committee resolved to pursue temporary installations and activity programming, such as movable mini-skateboard parks, small fountains, and game tables. As Galloway pointed out, temporary features would not have to be approved by the Art Commission. They could be changed to meet the community’s needs or removed if foot traffic on the walkway becomes too heavy after the World Trade Center site is rebuilt.

The committee resolved to consult the state Department of Transportation about the availability of funds and workers to complete the temporary projects. Fishman, who did not comment on the temporary project idea, was also given the go-ahead to pursue the Greenmarket possibility.

Construction of the northern half of the promenade, from W. Thames up to Chambers St., is scheduled to begin this spring and continue until 2009. Design plans for that half of the project have not yet been finalized, but will involve moving West St. slightly farther west, reconfiguring the park at Rector St. and renovating the playgrounds between West Thames and Albany Sts.