Whether you consider them “dead-end” corridors devoid of street life or nifty urban shortcuts (or just convenient rain shelters), the city’s covered public walkways and arcades are finding themselves in something of a spotlight, reports the Wall Street Journal.
This recent focus is on the covered walkways that run alongside skyscrapers in the Water Street corridor in lower Manhattan. A proposed zoning change, which would affect property owners in the Water Street Subdistrict, would allow retail to open up shop in these arcades.
Proposed by the Department of City Planning (DCP), the Alliance for Downtown New York (ADNY) and the New York City Economic Development Corporation (EDC), the zoning change would let property owners welcome retail tenants–like restaurants and clothing stores–in exchange for making improvements and upgrades to the plazas. Opinion is divided on whether new tenants will usher in a more vibrant “Water Street renaissance” or whether the move will amount to loss of public space in exchange for the property owners’ gain and little else.
The controversy centers around the fact that the developers who put up the towers created the arcades to ease pedestrian flow in the neighborhood’s street grid in exchange for more buildable floor space. Opponents say building owners would get too much additional benefit from space that should benefit only the public. “It’s not enough” of an equitable exchange, though the public would get a “livelier street and the ability to buy Starbucks coffee,” said Gina Pollara, president of the Municipal Art Society of New York.
Others who favor the new zoning say the arcades along Water Street “simply no longer work.” Jessica Lappin, president of the Alliance for Downtown New York, a downtown business group, feels the public space has not “added any vibrancy or character to the street.” The zoning proposal would apply to about 110,000 square feet of arcades, the addition of which originally allowed the developers of the corresponding skyscrapers–including Rudin Management Co., RXR Realty, and Brookfield Property Partners–to add about 380,000 square feet of space.
The property owners say the investment they’d be making to allow the much-needed retail would be a significant benefit to the community, which has lamented the lack of amenities like dining, shopping and dry cleaning.
The area of lower Manhattan being reimagined by the proposed zoning change.
Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer pointed out in comments sent to the planning commission that the Water Street arcades were created in a much different era: “We would not likely choose to build now these arcades in a mixed residential and commercial neighborhood.”
The city agencies and the Alliance for Downtown New York have looked at various ways to reimagine Water Street as a welcoming commercial corridor instead of what amounts to a mostly-deserted cityscape after work hours.
Community Board 1, which initially didn’t approve the proposal, has taken a second look at the issue and approved it with some additions.
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Neighborhoods : Financial District