Under Cover

“I feel like I have a new life. I feel safe,” she said.

Fulton tower?

The cash-strapped Metropolitan Transportation Authority may be looking to make more cuts to the Fulton St. transit center and build a residential tower over the hub, a source tells UnderCover. The glass, domed public building of several stories may also be history.

The transit center’s price tag seems to grow by the day and this would not be the first big change. The space above the transit hub was at first supposed to house a glass egg-shaped structure, flooded with natural refracted light, and was later scaled back to a rectangle with a glass dome, while keeping the retail and public space. Now, the M.T.A. is considering a residential tower on the site, recouping some money by selling or leasing the air rights.

A second source also said the financially troubled hub could face cutbacks, and said the latest plans for the station “will annoy some people.” The source added that the changes aren’t yet definite.

At $888 million, the transit center is already $41 million over the federal allocation for the project, Metro reported last week. That means it’s time for some “soul-searching,” M.T.A. board member Nancy Shevell told Metro.

The good news, though, is that the M.T.A. remains supportive of connecting the E to the R/W, our first source said. The source hopes some of the money from the tower could be used to fill another Downtown need.

“It would be great if it wasn’t just a commercial building but had some public amenity,” the source told UnderCover, imagining a performing arts center on the site. “Maybe something positive can come out of this.”

Freed thoughts

We bumped into former City Councilmember Kathryn Freed at voter-demographic guru Jerry Skurnik’s annual party at Josie Wood’s in the Village. We had to ask if she has any thoughts of running for her old Council District 1 seat, currently held by Alan Gerson, who will be term-limited out of office at the end of 2009. “Who knows?” said Freed. Once known as the hardest-working woman in politics, Freed is in her fourth year of a 10-year Municipal Court term. Will she finish out her time on the bench? “Who knows?” Freed repeated.

Well, one thing’s certain: Freed excitedly said she’s taking a trip soon to Egypt “to see the pyramids.”

As to who might oppose Freed in such a race, who knows? Margaret Chin and Pete Gleason are definites, Julie Menin and Jan Lee remain maybes, and undoubtedly more names will be floated next year.

Come back

There was much fanfare last week over Community Board 2’s full board meeting finally being held in Chinatown after a four-year hiatus from that part of the district. While appreciative of the meeting locale, Justin Yu, considered a shoo-in to replace Eric Ng as the next president of the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association, cajoled the board to do better. “We’d like to see you in five months instead of five years!” he remarked with a smile.

Tolls for thee

At the C.B. 2 meeting, Wellington Chen, executive director of the Chinatown Partnership, gave a PowerPoint presentation illustrating that, while, as he put it, “Most people think Chinatown is taking over the world,” in fact, the Chinese-American population in C.B. 2’s part of Chinatown held steady at 8,000 from 1990 to 2000, according to census figures.

In fact, Manhattan’s Chinatown faces shrinkage by displacement through gentrification, while Chinatowns in Flushing and Sunset Park are growing, he said. And traffic congestion remains a top concern. “We need to restore the two-way balancing act [toll] on the Verrazano,” Chen said, prompting cheers. “With the next president, we can achieve this with an executive order.”

Keeping Gateway affordable

The Battery Park City Authority may use Gateway Plaza’s ground lease as leverage for maintaining affordable housing in the building.

The current affordable housing agreement with owner LeFrak expires in June 2009. Affordability advocates hope to motivate LeFrak using the fact that the building’s ground lease expires in 2030, and LeFrak will have to negotiate with the Authority for a new rental rate.

“We are saying that a deal must be reached on the 2009 rent stabilization issue first,” said Julie Menin, chairperson of Community Board 1.

That was the biggest news to come out of a recent meeting between the major players in the affordability discussions — most of the stakeholders are keeping quiet about upcoming plans.

“There will be something announced,” Jeff Galloway, a member of the Gateway Plaza Tenants’ Association, told UnderCover. He expects to have news soon, if not of a solution, then at least of progress.

As for strategy, Linda Belfer, president of the tenants’ association, is keeping her cards close. “We’re not ready to publicize a strategy until we’re ready to implement it,” she said several weeks ago.

Cry me a flood

Not everyone on Community Board 1 is sympathetic to the plight of the 90 West St. tenants, who were exiled from their building for eight days after a sewer pipe flooded the basement. The fact that Port Authority is giving the (generally well-off) tenants $750 a night — or $6,000 total — for the expenses and inconvenience of being displaced, rubbed some Downtowners the wrong way, especially those who were exiled for much longer on 9/11 and received no compensation.

C.B. 1 member Tom Goodkind is on a crusade to defend the 90 West tenants and convince board members that there were problems with the city’s response to the crisis. Even though the tenants got reimbursed, it was hard for them to find temporary housing, since many Lower Manhattan hotels were booked solid. Goodkind tried to persuade board members at the C.B. 1 holiday party last week, but they weren’t having it.

“I want to know what [the city] will give us,” an angry board member who was displaced on 9/11 said.

Pass the saltines

City Councilmember Alan Gerson had to cancel several appearances and meetings last Thurs., Dec. 20 after being stricken with food poisoning from a party the night before. He was supposed to host a meeting Thursday about construction noise with residents, the Port Authority, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and the Lower Manhattan Construction Command Center.

The agencies have been doing a lot of finger pointing, Gerson said at the full Community Board 1 meeting last week. “I’m determined to put an end to the cycle,” Gerson told the board. Now, his determination will have to wait until the meeting is rescheduled.