Two Bridges-area esplanade will be ‘beachy’ keen

Advocates created this design rendering a few years ago to show what a revamped Two Bridges-area waterfront might look like. Now the city is moving forward with a multimillion-dollar project that could bring a vision like this — complete with a beach — to reality.

BY SYDNEY PEREIRA | Most may not think of a sandy beachfront when they think of the Lower East Side esplanade — particularly in the construction-filled, dilapidated portions beneath the Brooklyn Bridge.

But that could change, thanks to a $21 million project by the city’s Economic Development Corporation.

A quarter-mile stretch of the waterfront roughly in the Two Bridges area between Peck Slip and Catherine Slip — where existing conditions are bleak with crummy bike racks, sinkholes in the esplanade, and staging areas for construction projects — is being revamped by E.D.C. The project is being funded with $15 million from the U.S. Housing and Urban Development’s Community Development Block Grant and $6 million from Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and Councilmember Margaret Chin.

Though a majority of the project targets the esplanade, E.D.C. plans to build better access points to a small, long-closed beach area beneath the Brooklyn Bridge.

At this early stage of the process, there are no design renderings.

Brewer is a fan of improving that beach access, she said at a public meeting with E.D.C. on Tues., Jan. 8, lauding last summer’s “Water Day” when the beach was temporarily reopened.

“There’s a little beach there, and I am determined to keep that beach and that sand,” Brewer said. “That’s a small idea, but you have to know that The New York Times is behind us.”

The current scene at “Brooklyn Bridge Beach.” E.D.C. plans a multimillion-dollar improvement project for this stretch of waterfront. Photo by Sydney Pereira

The Times editorial board backed the idea of a Manhattan beach last summer, sparking a buzz among Manhattan’s politicians. At the time, Brewer tweeted: “We ought to make it possible for all NYers to enjoy our coastline by walking right up to the water’s edge & jumping in!”

E.D.C. stressed that at least one limitation on any upgrades would be a combined-sewer outfall adjacent to the shoreline. Who would be the gatekeeper for those beach-access points is still a question for Downtowners.

“The beach obviously is the top priority,” said Rob Buchanan, of the New York City Water Trail Association, a nonprofit boating organization. “Just to walk on the beach would do so much for Lower Manhattan. … No operator or ‘managed shoreline access’ — which is code for a locked gate.”

E.D.C. will have a host of other projects to carefully coordinate with — such as the Two Bridges’ portion of the Lower Manhattan Coastal Resiliency project that will include flood barriers beneath the bridge, the reconstruction of Peck Slip, and construction at South Street Seaport’s Tin Building and New Market Building sites. Another critical ask from a contingent of Smith Houses residents was better access and connectivity to the project.

“We are not tourists — we are a part of the city,” said Luz Chile, a Smith Houses resident. “We need to identify that we are a part of the project [through the design].”

Fifteen months of construction could begin as soon as early 2020. The design phase will wend its way through Community Boards 1 and 3 for approval this year, and a final design will be complete by fall 2019. Although E.D.C. would not be in charge of additional crosswalks, the larger vision plan could include potential crosswalks at Robert Wagner Sr. Place, Dover St. and Peck Slip. The design will also include flood-resistent design materials for the pavings and railings, better seating, lighting and landscaping, and bike lane improvements along South St.