February 18, 2013 By Steven E. Greer, MD
Battery Park (BPC) is a far better place now than it was 12-months ago. Goldman Sachs brought fine dining to BPC for the first time with tremendous successes. Danny Meyer’s North End Grill was voted “Best New Restaurant” by the Zagat survey group and is booked for two rounds of dining every night. Renovations of the new “Brookfield Place” in the World Financial center are progressing, as is the construction of the new Freedom Tower and other office buildings at the old Ground Zero. The rundown old Gate House restaurant has been replaced by a completely remodeled SouthWestNY restaurant that now attracts business executives for bustling lunch crowds: something never seen before on South End Avenue.
The Battery Park City Authority administration, led by Chairman Bill Thompson and his president, Gayle Horwitz, are no longer in office. Thanks to the new administration, led by Dennis Mehiel, the $60 Million-plus community center is back on track to open and be managed by Asphalt Green (without a stifling Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), authored by resident and CB1 member Jeff Galloway, that would have prevented competition with Bob Townley’s Manhattan Youth center across the street.) Also, the shell of Pier A is closer to being finished now than it ever has been.
As a result of these dramatic improvements to the neighborhood, A-list celebrities, such as Leonardo DiCaprio, Penelope Cruz, and Javier Bardem, have moved in to BPC, rather than Tribeca. More apartments were sold in 2012 than in 2011, with higher selling prices.
The demographics of Battery Park have also improved. According to the 2010 census, there are more than 13,300 residents in BPC, with an average family income of more than $180,000. The population has almost doubled since the devastation to Downtown caused by the September 11th, 2001 terrorist attacks.
The newer infrastructure of Battery Park was exposed as a major asset after the floods of Hurricane Sandy. While all of Downtown lost power for weeks, including buildings across the street in the Financial District, BPC never lost power. Moreover, the flood waters did not damage many buildings. BPC was the humanitarian host for thousands of electronic refugees from Tribeca and The Financial District who needed power for their smartphones and laptops.
In 2012, BatteryPark.TV led the way in solving many problems of BPC that had festered for decades. The noisy, air polluting, NY Waterway ferry boats have now replaced the diesel engines in four boats after our reporting alerted state officials at NYSERDA. Others will be replaced for a total of nine boats. BP.TV initiated the installation of traffic lights on North End Avenue and Murray streets, and similar traffic measures are in the works for West Thames and South End Avenue.
The patch of sidewalk by the Gateway Plaza entrance that was an open dog sewer has been cleaned up after BP.TV reporting took on the dog mafia and won. Gateway Plaza and local businesses on South End will also be contributing to power washings.
Tour buses and livery cabs rarely are seen illegally parked now as a direct result of BP.TV’s video reports of the problem, which led to the TLC and local businesses cooperating. The DOT now encourages residents to send photographs of violating buses.
The unsightly fruit shacks that had formed small shanty towns on South End and North End Avenues were removed, after BP.TV reporting.
The West Thames grass field and drainage problem are being addressed. The artificial turf ballfields, damaged after the flood, are now being replaced months faster, after BP.TV reported that lengthy RFP’s were not required. (Numerous politicians are claiming credit for that, but it all started with BP.TV.)
Lastly and most importantly, the Gayle Horwitz secretive plot to keep Asphalt Green from opening, in order to renegotiate the contract, was exposed by BP.TV. She is no longer with the BPCA, and the program is back on track.
Viewership for BatteryPark.TV tripled in 2012, with more than 20,000 views per month, making it the most respected source for unbiased information Downtown. We are expanding to the entire lower Manhattan this year with DowntownTV.
Looking forward to 2013 and beyond, there are several “low hanging fruit” projects that would considerably improve the quality of life in BPC, and also the real estate market. The Pier A project is nearing completion of the shell, but the construction and use of the interior has not begun. Therefore, those plans can easily be changed from the current proposal to make it a noisy “booze cruise” dock and tour bus destination into a gourmet market, similar to The New Amsterdam market in the Seaport or “All Good Things” in Tribeca. An Italian museum is a alternative idea as well.
Another BPCA-owned facility that can easily be converted for better use is the old Hunger Action Center on 2 River Terrace by the Irish Memorial. Currently used as a daycare center and rented out for parties, a better use could be to convert it into a nationally recognized green energy educational center to compliment the state-of-the-art green buildings in BPC. Some of the Hollywood actors who moved to BPC did so because of the green buildings. President Obama is finally addressing global climate change, and this would fit in well with his agenda. Also, in the wake of Hurricane Sandy that devastated Downtown New York, our location makes this type of a center very appropriate.
Nearby, in the World Financial Centers undergoing renovation, new retail shops would be great additions to the community. A satellite retail Nordstrom, for example, would succeed better this time around than previous stores given the new Goldman Sachs headquarters.
The LeFrak-owned Gateway Plaza needs to finally deliver on long-promised capital improvements, including the ugly facade with old windows that need replacing, and the trashy South End Avenue sidewalk that needs to be power washed. The commercial clients of LeFrak should have alternative spots to place their trash. Putting bags of old Gristedes and restaurant food on the ground is the biggest source of the rat infestation in Battery Park City.
The BPCA contract with the city to provide 45 park enforcement patrol (PEP) officers for our small neighborhood was recently renewed, with salary raises. It is time for the PEP staff, often incompetent and corrupt, to be replaced with a new crew willing to properly patrol BPC and enforce the laws, without harassing innocent residents. All residents should call the PEP office at (212) 417-3100 when they see any need for law enforcement.
Lastly, and most importantly, the BPCA must stop serving as the agency that redirects BPC resident tax money to the state and city, making the BPC a veritable piggybank. The more than $126 Million in surplus revenue that the BPCA manages should go back into Battery Park City to build performing arts centers, lower rent and monthly building payments, or any number of other better uses. There is little doubt that the Supreme Court would rule that the “lease” payments to the BPCA are actually taxes. It is un-American to have taxation without elected representation.