With neighbors working together, Downtown’s future is not so stormy

BY CATHERINE MCVAY HUGHES & ELIZABETH H. BERGER  |  The last two weeks have proven again that the worst of Mother Nature cannot defeat Lower Manhattan.

We did not face this alone. New Yorkers from all corners of the city experienced flooding, loss of power and, in some areas, devastating damage and tragic loss of life.

The two of us have lived below Fulton Street a combined total of 50 plus years. We have seen the neighborhood grow and celebrate its architecture, winding streets, restaurants and shops, sweeping views, parks and, most important, the sense of community which makes Lower Manhattan a great place in which to live and work.

But, being surrounded by two rivers proved a challenge amid what weather forecasters deemed an unprecedented “perfect storm,” one that brought formidable tidal surges, flooding our subways and streets, basements and storefronts.

No one can deny the impact on Lower Manhattan. As the two of us walked the district this past week, we witnessed the signs of hope and resilience that are second nature here: neighbors pitching in to help each other and small-business owners cleaning and repairing shops. Remarkably, people have been arranging volunteer efforts to help fellow New Yorkers more profoundly impacted by Sandy’s blows:  pitching in to distribute FEMA food and water, picking up debris and sharing information. Neighbors lit stairwells with flashlights, pooled precious water and held impromptu potlucks.

From main thoroughfares to smaller cobblestoned streets, we saw evidence of hardship and hard work: small-business owners, professional crews, city workers, residents and volunteers pumping out water, sweeping streets, patching damaged windows. Our cultural institutions were off-limits to visitors, and stores were assessing damage and slowly reopening.

Every day, more stores and restaurants are reopening. We’ve seen restaurateurs Jacques Capsouto as well as the Poulakakos family — which owns many eateries in the Financial District and Battery Park City, including Financier, Harry’s Italian and Vintry – getting back to business, wine seller Marco Pasanella re-sheetrocking his South Street storefront shop, Lance Lappin and Merchants NY reaching out to customers, Drs. Bobby Buka in the Seaport and Michel Cohen in Tribeca sending alerts to patients, Trinity Church advising parishioners and other community members, owners and managing agents informing tenants, and countless other formal and informal communications.

Less visible was the effect on some office and residential buildings, particularly east of Water Street and on the western edge of Tribeca into Battery Park City, where in some locations there is significant impact. For our community’s children, Halloween was not the same and the soccer season has been cut short. The spirit of the day reflected exhaustion, but also optimism and cooperation.

In the coming weeks, Community Board 1 and the Downtown Alliance will be there to help, as we have since storm warnings first aired, working with community leaders, property owners, government officials and others to bring relief to our neighborhood.

We applaud our elected leaders: our president, governor and mayor, New York’s two Senators, Congressman Nadler and our own hometown team: Speaker Silver, State Sen. Squadron, Assembly Member Glick, Borough President Stringer and Council Member Chin. And, kudos to the Port Authority, M.T.A. and Con Edison.

As this goes to press, most of Lower Manhattan has power, buses are on their routes, subway lines are up and running, dewatering has come to a close and repairs are well underway. The next step is to help our small businesses and others recover from unanticipated losses and delays, especially on the eve of the critical holiday shopping season. It’s time to dine and shop locally to support neighborhood stores and restaurants.

We must keep the momentum that has made Lower Manhattan the place to be for businesses, start-ups, residents and visitors.  All of us share a vision for Lower Manhattan that far exceeds Sandy’s temporary setbacks.

Whatever is thrown at us, we have prevailed. We look forward to a Lower Manhattan that will be stronger and better than ever.

Catherine McVay Hughes is chairperson of Community Board 1. and Elizabeth H. Berger is president of the Alliance for Downtown New York.