Final Design Presented for Brooklyn Bridge Esplanade, the 'Missing Link'

Rendering of the southern section of the Brooklyn Bridge Esplanade, looking north. The pavement continues the pattern of the coming reconstructed Peck Slip, to the West. In the rear at left is a raised artificial lawn. Rendering: Starr Whitehouse Landscape Architects and Planners

Nov. 24, 2019

The city has come up with its final design for the 1,500-foot-long stretch of the Brooklyn Bridge Esplanade, between Peck Slip and Catherine Slip. And for a narrow slice of waterfront with a slew of physical encumbrances, including massive underground utilities and planned flood barriers, it has a lot to offer.

The plan, shown last week to Community Board 1’s Waterfront, Parks and Cultural Committee, includes plazas and planted seating areas, a small artificial turf lawn, well- separated bike and pedestrian paths, a recreation area with exercise equipment, a fishing station and more. The new section will provide a connection to the East River Esplanade to the north and south.

“It’s the missing link in the waterfront open space, bike and pedestrian facilities down by the water,” said Wil Fisher of the city’s Economic Development Corp, which manages the property. 

But access to Brooklyn Bridge Beach remains the bugaboo between the city and the community. While the plan boasts a handicap accessible get-down to the 900-foot-long spit of sand beneath the bridge, it will not provide the daily access that CB1 and others have long called for. 

“There is a double gate that can be opened and closed pursuant to a management plan that will be worked out,” said Stephen Whitehouse of Starr Whitehouse Landscape Architects and Planners, the project’s designers. “The idea is to create, safely at all times, closer access to the beach and the ability to manage it flexibly in coordination with the community and the potential users.” 

In a resolution passed this month, the board expressed “general support” for the design but said it was “extremely disappointed that unfettered and unmanaged” access to the beach was not included in the plan, something it had also called for in a February resolution. The board also took issue with the absence of boat docking facilities, as well as a children’s play area. (Whitehouse said a kids’ space couldn’t be included because the needed fencing would prevent access to underground utilities.)

More than anything else, it was access to the beach that activists have demanded for over a dozen years, and that was the main message at a public design meeting in January, where the EDC solicited ideas for the plan.  

“All the other frickin’ boroughs in the city have a beach, and we need a beach,” Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, a major proponent of unrestricted access ot the beach, said back then. 

The EDC did win applause from CB1’s Waterfront Committee for its decision to create public space out of what now are 70 parking slots beneath the FDR Drive. Initially, Fisher said, temporary seating will be created there, but it’s hoped that other temporary uses, such as pop-up concessions, can be installed in the future. Post-Superstorm Sandy building codes make it too expensive and difficult to create permanent structures in the area, he said. 

Construction of the $20 million project, largely federally funded through the Lower Manhattan Development Corp., is expected to begin next spring and take a year to complete.