Triangle park talk sinks to new level: Use of basement


By Albert Amateau

The focus of attention shifted beneath the surface last week at a hearing on the proposed new triangle park on the west side of the former St. Vincent’s Hospital campus.

The existing triangle, bounded by Seventh and Greenwich Aves. and W. 12th St., includes an inaccessible green space several feet above sidewalk level, with a 10,000-square-foot basement beneath it that formerly served the now-shuttered hospital.

Several neighborhood advocates at the Nov. 2 joint meeting of Community Board 2’s St. Vincent’s Omnibus and Parks Committees urged that the basement space be saved as part of the proposed park.

The board, however, has been calling for an accessible public park at sidewalk level on the triangle for 30 years and the plea seemed close to being answered.

Last week, Rudin Management presented its revised preliminary plans to build the park as part of its residential redevelopment of the hospital’s east campus and North Shore-Long Island Jewish Health System’s creation of a community health center and emergency room in the O’Toole Building on the west side of Seventh Ave.

Rick Parisi, of MPFP landscape architects, told the Nov. 2 meeting that the City Planning Department has indicated it would approve a plan to remove the basement, allowing an accessible park at sidewalk level. Parisi also said City Planning indicated that the existing low-rise, materials-handling building on the triangle that used to serve the hospital could also be demolished.

The removal of the basement and the materials-handling building would allow a 16,000-square-foot park with 7,400 square feet of plantings covering virtually the entire triangle. An earlier plan with the materials-handling building in place would result in a park half the size.

The plans presented on Nov. 2 did not include the basement as part of the park. But people in attendance, including members of the Queer History Alliance who are advocating for an AIDS memorial in the triangle, said the 10,000-square-foot underground space was a potential community resource that should not be destroyed.

Michael Seltzer, a Baruch College professor and a member of the alliance, said the triangle was the right place for a tribute to St. Vincent’s pioneering response to the AIDS health crisis.

“Our intent is to create a fitting tribute to the indomitable spirit of our neighbors,” Seltzer said later.

He said that Sister Patrice of St. Vincent’s, who ran the first bereavement groups for people who lost loved ones to AIDS, should be among those honored. Reverend Mead Miner Bailey, a founder of the country’s first congregate residence for people living with AIDS/H.I.V. — Bailey House on Christopher St. — should also have a tribute in the triangle, he said.

Seltzer added that Reverend John Dyson Canon, priest at St. John’s in the Village Episcopal Church from 1975 to 1987, should also be honored in the triangle park, along with the late Congresswoman Bella Abzug for her fearless neighborhood advocacy.

Christopher Tepper, a founder of the Queer History Alliance, urged Rudin, which has agreed to pay for building and maintaining the triangle park, to “keep an open mind” about including the basement in the park design.

Community board member Steve Ashkenazi was also concerned about preserving the basement under the triangle.

“To destroy that underground space makes no sense,” Ashkenazi said, citing the shortage of meeting places in the district. Robert Woodworth, operations manager of the L.G.B.T. Community Center on W. 13th St., said that 10,000 square feet of usable space should be preserved for the public as a teaching center.

Gil Horowitz, of the Washington Square-Lower Fifth Ave. Block Association, and Andrew Berman, executive director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, called on Rudin and MPFP to determine the cost and feasibility of a triangle park with a basement.

But Kenneth Winslow, a Bank St. resident, presented a petition signed by scores of neighbors reaffirming the desire for a triangle park at sidewalk level, which would not be likely if the basement is preserved.

Jo Hamilton, C.B. 2 chairperson, said she was concerned that the park be visible from the outside. Visibility was one of the main reasons the board has been calling for the park to be at sidewalk level.

Albert Bennett, a public member of the board’s Parks Committee, was concerned that the roots of shade trees planned for the triangle park would not have room to grow if the basement remains.

Tobi Bergman, chairperson of the C.B. 2 Parks Committee, reminded the audience that the Queer History Alliance was scheduled to present an alternative plan for preserving the underground space at Board 2’s Parks Committee meeting on Wed., Nov. 16. Nevertheless, the proposal for a sidewalk-level park was the only one being considered last week.

The triangle park is to be part of the uniform land use review procedure, or ULURP, for Rudin’s residential redevelopment of the former St. Vincent’s property on Seventh Ave.’s east side. The entire project, including the park and how it would be maintained and administered, must win the approval of the City Council at the end of the nine-month review procedure.

Although Board 2 has called for the triangle to become a city Parks Department property, Melanie Meyers, Rudin’s land-use lawyer, said the developer would be responsible for the construction and maintenance of the park in perpetuity.

In the future, the residential condo owners in the new Rudin project would fund the park’s maintenance, according to Meyers. Meyers said each condo owner would be required to agree to pay for the park’s maintenance and the city would have the power to enforce the maintenance agreement. The city Parks Department standard of maintenance would be the standard for the triangle park, Meyers said.

She suggested that a Triangle Park Alliance — representing local elected officials, the community board, neighborhood park advocates and representatives of the condo owners — could be designated as responsible for the park. The entity would be included as part of the review for the residential project, she added.