New York City Con Ed Site Park Effort Launches

The latest round in the debate over the future of the four-acre, former Con Ed site on mid-town Manhattan’s East River shore took place today. Civic leaders and local legislators held a press conference to announce the launch of a campaign to ensure that development provides public access to the waterfront and includes a new park. Hopes are that the final project will reflect the spirit if not the details of the designs that came out of the three-day charrette that took place last June. The press conference was led by City Council Member Daniel Garodnick, Lyle Frank of Community Board 6, & Kent Barwick of the Municipal Art Society. Speakers showing support for the project also included elected officials U.S. Representative Carolyn Maloney, State Senators Thomas Duane and Liz Krueger, New York State Assembly members Jonathan Bing, Brian Kavanagh and Micah Kellner, and New York City Council Members Jessica Lappin and Rosie Mendez. Other proponents present were Christian DiPalermo of New Yorkers for Parks, Caroline Samponaro from Transportation Alternatives, Roland Lewis from The Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance and Edan Unterman from the East Midtown Coalition for Sensible Development. The coalition is calling on the city and the state to ensure that a new public park be included in the redevelopment plans for the site, pointing out the following main talking points: the area now has the least per-capita open space in Manhattan , and the second lowest in New York City. There is currently extremely limited access to the riverfront property. Closing the current gap in the Manhattan Waterfront Greenway from 38th to 63rd Street would mean that pedestrians, cyclists and joggers would finally have a thoroughfare running from the Battery to Harlem along the East River . The East Side of Manhattan’s waterfront has received considerably less investment compared to the West Side, and a new park would cost just a fraction of the cost of the total redevelopment of the Con Ed site and the cost of rebuilding sections of the FDR. If coordinated, this could mean a great site for the public. Creating such a park is “a once in a life-time opportunity,” according to a MAS spokesperson. Plans for the park, created by six landscape architects at the charrette, include a dramatic curving walkway for pedestrians to access the East River and a ferry landing at East 40th Street . “By realigning and lowering the 42nd Street exit ramp off FDR Drive , the architects hit upon the concept of ‘elevating the people, not the traffic,’” Frank Sanchis, III, MAS senior vice president said in a statement released after the charrette. “They proposed a grand urban terrace above the FDR overlooking the river from 38th Street to 42nd Street . They also proposed a ‘forested hill’ surrounding a existing ventilation shaft at 42nd Street and proposed creating a glowing six-story ‘pylon’ which would anchor a ferry terminal, restaurant and vertical public space, and provide a means to descend to the river.” The landscape architects included Ken Smith, designer of the rooftop garden at the Museum of Modern Art and the elevated plaza at 55 Water Street; Ricardo Scofidio, designer of the High Line and the redevelopment of Lincoln Center; Matthew Urbanski, designer of Brooklyn Bridge Park; Margie Ruddick, designer of improvements to Queens Plaza and a master plan for downtown Trenton; Kate Orff, a principal at SCAPE Studio and a protégé of Rem Koolhaas; and Brian Jencek, a principal at Hargreaves Associates. The City Council meeting next month will be to vote on plans to redevelop the 9 acres from 35th to 41st. The state oversees the rebuilding of the FDR and needs to also be in agreement with new plans. So, essentially what is needed for this vision to come to life is the cooperation of several parties. Other pieces of the puzzle include: the developer and owner of portions of the property, Sheldon Solow, must grant an easement,and he has indicated that he will do so. Plus, logistical concerns like funding issues must be worked out to make it happen.