Efforts Afoot to Transform Battery Park City's Southernmost Park
Wagner Park occupies 3.5 acres at the tip of Battery Park City. Photo: Battery Park City Authority
The man behind the master plan for Battery Park City is back, more than 35 years later, and he is rethinking an important part of his design.
Architect Stanton Eckstut and the firm of Perkins Eastman were hired by the Battery Park City Authority to study ways to improve Wagner Park, the 3.5-acre green space at the southern tip of the neighborhood that overlooks New York Harbor. Uppermost in their minds is how to protect the lower end of Battery Park City from anticipated storm surges like Sandy, or worse.
“Wagner Park turns out to be one of the most sensitive places in all of Lower Manhattan,” Eckstut explained during a presentation at the authority’s quarterly community meeting last week. “If we can find a way of lifting it or doing something to keep the flood out we can do a great deal to protect all of Lower Manhattan.”
“I can assure you,” he added, “that none of us were thinking about that when we first started this work.”
While they are at it, the authority is taking the opportunity to find other ways to improve the park. For the last several months Eckstut and Perkins Eastman have been scrutinizing the park’s lawns, esplanade, pavilion, seawall, building facilities and more. They also conducted a survey of park users. (Suggestions included more food and drink options, shade and seating.)
Outreach to the public for comment continues with a scheduled presentation to Community Board 1’s Battery Park City Committee on Dec. 6 and another public meeting, as yet unscheduled, in January. Others with a stake in the area, such as the Ritz Carlton, Downtown Alliance, The Skyscraper Museum and Pier A, are being solicited for ideas as well. The authority is also accepting email feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Below are some of the areas of Wagner Park that the planners identified for potential improvement.
The resiliency challenge, according to the planners, is to not only protect the upland area with a barrier (approximately bordered by the dotted line above), but also protect the facilities that are there. Those buildings are about 9.5 feet above sea level and they need to be raised another six feet to meet current flooding predictions. In the map above, all of the area below the red line is within the flood plane. The goal, say the planners, is to raise the level of the park to 15.5 feet by 2030.
REPLACE OUTDATED PAVILION?
The pavilion, which houses Gigino restaurant and, upstairs, provides a dramatic, elevated view of the park and harbor, is outmoded and needs to be rethought, Eckstut said. The restrooms in the building are too big, there’s not enough room for the park maintenance and support facilities that are housed there and the second level is not handicap accessible, according to his critique. As for the restrooms (now closed for repairs), Eckstut said they are “bigger than Bryant Park. So if you want to have tourists, put in all these restrooms. [Then] you get all the buses out here, everybody goes to the restrooms. It’s not what I think everyone in Battery Park City living here had in mind, and what we had in mind [when it was designed].” Eckstut said the building could be redesigned and space reapportioned more appropriately while maintaining the same size footprint.
AN UNINTERRUPTED ESPLANADE
Eckstut said there should be a way to make the Battery Park City esplanade continue, uninterrupted, between Wagner Park, Pier A and Battery Park. The designers did not anticipate that Pier A would one day be a destination, Eckstut said. “We loved our Battery Park City esplanade, but we never figured out where it was going. …We have this great esplanade coming through and then there’s kind of a hard stop.”
“When you look at all the walls and the hedges and the barriers there’s a lot to negotiate,” he added. “How do you go from one end to the other? There is about five feet in which everybody comes together and that’s how they get to Battery Park and Battery Place. We ought to be able to figure out a continuous and simple way of doing this.”
THE RIPRAP AND SEAWALL ALONG THE EDGE OF WAGNER PARK
Eckstut showed a slide of the rocky southeast edge, or riprap, of Wagner Park, just across from Pier A. “This is what most people see when they visit Pier A. We think we ought to do better with that.” As for the bulkhead, or seawall of the park, Eckstut said it is not built to the official federal pier head line. “We have a chance where we could provide a floating dock if it turned out to be appropriate. Schools are nearby, lots of possibilities for educational programs [that would include] getting down to the docks.”
When it comes to views of New York Harbor, Eckstut said, “This is probably one of the most unusual places in the world.”
“We feel we have much more potential frontage if we could just get to enjoy this view a little bit more, and not get in the way of kids playing,” he added. “We don’t really have solutions.”
MORE FOOD AND BEVERAGE OFFERINGS
“The world of parks has changed,” Eckstut said, citing Shake Shack in Madison Square Park as an example of how food service can be integrated into a park. “Now food is considered a positive thing as long as it’s appropriate and priced correctly.”