With Demolition Coming, Residents Fear Streets Clogged with Tourists

Starting on Monday, April 15, Thames Street, a heavily traversed path to the National Sept. 11 Memorial, will be closed to cars and pedestrians, sending more cars and people to surrounding streets. Photo by Aline Reynolds/Tribeca Trib

Apr. 12, 2013

With the four-month demolition of a nearby building beginning on Monday, April 15, some Financial District residents are railing against street-closure plans they say will choke their already tourist-packed neighborhood.

The city will close Thames Street, a main pedestrian corridor to the National Sept. 11 Memorial, to vehicles and pedestrians, and Cedar Street, a block north, to general vehicular traffic. The plan is to reroute pedestrians to Cedar, which the residents fear will further congest their streets.

Developer Fisher Brothers is tearing down 22 Thames, formerly an American Stock Exchange building, to make room for what will likely be a towering building with up to 360,000 square feet of apartments and retail. Fisher Brothers reportedly purchased 22 Thames, along with the 86 Trinity Place, the former main American Stock Exchange building, for $150 million last year.

Fisher Brothers executive Alex Adams and Thomas D’Ercole, from Plaza Construction, faced the angry residents earlier this month at a meeting of Community Board 1’s Financial District Committee where they had come to discuss their plans.

Dianne Blell, from 125 Cedar, threatened to “throw a tantrum” if the city proceeds with its plans to close Cedar. “You’re going to have 100 breakdowns and lawsuits on your hand besides me screaming in the street,” she said.

James Fernandez, who lives at 114 Liberty, called the plan to close Thames Street “completely nuts.” The area, he said, is already so packed that he and his 6-year-old son have to dismount their bikes to avoid hitting pedestrians near the memorial.

“You’re going to be taking the major thoroughfare to the memorial completely out with Thames Street,” he said.

“We recognize that this is a very sensitive area and a sensitive site,” Adams said, “and we’re trying to do our best to respect everyone’s interests.”

In an e-mailed statement, DOT spokeswoman Nicole Garcia told the Trib that the agency reviewed a permit request by the developer outlining plans for street closures and traffic management.

“Safety is DOT’s first priority,” she said. “Important to note, DOT also coordinated this temporary detour with local stakeholders and partner agencies.”

But residents said the street closure plans were sprung on them at the last minute.

“I don’t know what your outreach was supposed to be, but it failed miserably,” said Pat Moore, a member or the committee and resident of 125 Cedar St. “You have to work with the management of the buildings so that the residents know exactly what’s going on.”

D’Ercole said that he and a colleague did distribute notices of the demolition and street closures in nearby apartment buildings on Albany, Liberty and Cedar Streets. He and Adams said they have been talking to administrators at the 9/11 Memorial, which attracts up to 18,000 visitors a day, and two neighboring high schools about ways to keep the demolition from overcrowding streets, distracting students and obstructing emergency exits in the schools. Pedestrian managers, for example, will help oversee traffic flow to and from the memorial, and work will be halted during students’ Regents exams.

But as for complaints that the residents have been kept in the dark, “You’re getting a commitment to improve that communication,” he said, “we hear you loud and clear. We’re going to do better.” 

There is heightened speculation over what will be constructed at 22 Thames, a building that can rise more than 600 feet. Adams said he couldn’t share details about the developer’s plans for the future building, whose construction is slated to start next spring. “I’m sure a lot of you would like to hear about our longer-term plans for the site,” he said, “[but] there’s not a lot of specific information I can give you on that tonight.”