Saying 'Less Is More,' Residents Reject Long-Delayed Peck Slip Plan

The Peck Slip plaza, between Water Street and South Street, is a popular play space for local kids. The area, bordered by granite blocks, was covered with asphalt at the completion of a lengthy sewer project in the street. Photo: Carl Glassman/Tribeca Trib

Posted
Oct. 03, 2017

The city’s $4.3 million park plan for Peck Slip, idling on the drawing board for more than a decade, will be all but scrapped if residents have their way.

Dozens of residents who live in and near the South Street Seaport packed a town hall meeting late last month to oppose the 10-year-old redesign of the two blocks of Peck Slip, between South and Water streets.

This was only the latest assault on the plan, which has been the target of controversy since Community Board 1, which sponsored the forum, first began debating the project in 2006. The space back then was a big parking lot.

The opponents, many of them parents in the area, said they would like to see the .65-acre of protected street remain wide open and mostly bare. The only amenities on the site now are granite blocks lining the periphery, planters, and movable tables and chairs. A Citi Bike station also occupies the space.

“Less is more,” said Patrice Farameh, a Water Street resident and mother of two who echoed the sentiments of other parents whose children had outgrown nearby Imagination Playground and now ride bikes and kick balls in the space. “Just keep it a beautiful open space.”

“I love the space as it is, as unpretty as it is,” said CB1 member Amanda Timchak, a mother of four who lives on Fulton Street. “The function that it serves is really important for children that are getting older.”

The current proposal, which Parks officials showed at the meeting, calls for grass, flowering plants and shrubs between Wa­ter and Front streets. From Front to South Street would be a stone plaza, with tables and chairs, that is marked by the stone outline of a ship. Steps dip into a slight depression in the pavement as if into the boat’s belly. Sculptural steel and wooden elements, 11 to 16 feet long, are meant to evoke the ribs of a ship. The space would be unified by closing off the Front street cut-through, an plan that prompted divided opinions among the residents.

A 360 view of Peck Slip, from near Front Street, which bisects the plaza. (Click and drag your cursor to see the full 360-degree view.) Photo: Carl Glassman/Tribeca Trib

Peck Slip Plaza, between South and Water streets at the South Street Seaport. - Spherical Image - RICOH THETA

 

Money for the project, of which $3 million remains available for construction, is federal post-9/11 funds channeled through the Lower Manhattan Development Corp.

Acknowledging the addition of new schools and more families in the area since the plan was introduced, Parks officials appeared open to changing the design. But it was unclear how far they would deviate from a plan that had already won approval from the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission and the State Historic Preservation Office through a year-long process.

“What we’re hoping to do is not go all the way back to square one but to look at the design as proposed and to make whatever modifications might be suitable,” said Steve Simon, the Parks Department’s director of operations for Manhattan.

“We are finally at a point,” he added, “where, hopefully, we can come to an agreement and construct this new park.”

Overwhelmingly, people at the meeting rejected the ship’s ribs as evocative of the Seaport’s historic past. Jonathan Boulware, president of the South Street Seaport Museum, said they “aren’t actually helpful in understanding Peck Slip.” He offered, on behalf of the museum, to help the designers come up with a way to make the space “historical and referential” as well as open.

Dave Sheldon of the group Save Our Seaport was more emphatic. “Ship ribs? We don’t need those stinking ship ribs,” he announced. “We have ships! This is the South Street Seaport!”

But the ship ribs, along with the more than block-long stone paving that simulates the shape of the ship and the accompanying seating, is all part of a single work of art, said Tom Adams, the project manager. “I don’t know that you can lose the ship ribs and not the rest,” he said. “You’re talking about reimagining the whole art piece area.”

The beleaguered project’s history began in 2006, when some residents said they wanted more greenery while others argued for an open, “piazza” style space. CB1 weighed in with a resolution that seemed to strike a compromise. But the resulting design by the Parks Department and its hired landscape architecture firm, Quennel Rothchild, just sparked more debate among the two factions, and it was roundly rejected. It took the intervention of then Assemblyman Sheldon Silver to bring the sides together and broker a compromise that led to the current proposal. The original sculpture idea, with ribs rising above the embedded outline of a ghost ship, remained.

Further stalled by a major street reconstruction and sewer project in the street and by Superstorm Sandy, the plan resurfaced at Community Board 1 in September 2014, when construction was slated to begin the next summer. At a CB1 Seaport Committee meeting, Jason Friedman, a committee member who had not been on the board when the plan was approved, called for discarding the Parks Department plan altogether and creating an open, European-style piazza.

John Fratta, the committee’s chair, disagreed. “We’ve been waiting for this park to be done forever,” he said, recalling the “painful” process of coming up with a design that satisfied the community board and preservation agencies. “I mean, if you really want to go back and start from scratch we’re talking about another eight years before we see anything over there.”

In the three years that have passed since then, the Parks Department received enough pushback to temporarily halt the project. Now, any significant reimagining of the design could, indeed, delay construction still more years. (Even if the community favored the current design, the project would still be nearly two years away from completion, Adams said.)

On Oct. 17, CB1’s Waterfront, Parks and Resiliency Delivery Committee will review comments made at the town hall and begin to come up with a resolution that details what people want—and don't want—for the space. The Parks Department and Quennel Rothchild would then come up with yet another design to be considered by the board.

All this may sound like history repeating itself, but CB1 Chair Anthony Notaro sounded a hopeful note.

“The will of the community is what will create a great park,” he said, “and a great public space.”