Two Plain Plazas to Be Turned into Single One of Beauty

Parks Department landscape architect George Vellonakis calls the design for Elizabeth H. Berger Plaza "a combination of the green and the urban" and likens it to Abingdon Square Park in Greenwich Village. The cross section shows the northern end of the park, looking south. Renderings: NYC Dept. of Parks & Recreation 

Sep. 16, 2015

Two of the most uninviting public spaces in Lower Manhattan are slated to be joined together into one reimagined and pleasurable park.

Wedged between the southern end of Trinity Place and a Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel exit are two sloping, largely bare pedestrian plazas with benches, some trees and many tourists wending their way between The Battery and the September 11 Memorial.  

The spaces, separated by a short stretch of roadway that is part of the Battery Tunnel exit, are not much to look at.

“It’s neither here nor there,” said Julia, who was seated in the northern plaza and declined to give her last name. In the 25 years that she has been working at nearby 140 Broadway, she said, this was her first visit to the nondescript space.

“There’s this whole barrier,” Julia said, pointing to the road that separates the concrete islands. “It just seems like there’s no park here.”

This month, two years after the city began working on the idea of transforming the two spaces, Parks Department landscape architect George Vellonakis presented a design that is meant to turn the plazas into a ⅔-acre landscaped oasis, better isolated from surrounding traffic and a safer, easier place to get to. The entire space would be named Elizabeth H. Berger Plaza, for the former president of the Downtown Alliance who died in 2013 and who had advocated for the transformation of the two plazas. (Currently, the smaller, northern of the two spaces bears her name.)

The plan, shown this month to a Community Board 1 committee, includes an oval green mound and four new crosswalks. A fence and stone wall around the plaza, Vellonakis said, would prevent pedestrians from taking unsafe shortcuts across busy streets, as they now do, and along with raised greenery would buffer seating areas from street noise. The seating, nestled in the greenery, also would be out of the way of pedestrians weaving their way through the space, according to the plan.

The park would capture eight feet of roadway on two sides.

The elimination of a “redundant” subway entrance, one of three in the space, would allow for what Vellonakis calls “a nice big plaza” for multiple uses, such as a Greenmarket or performance space.

Construction of the park is expected to begin sometime in 2017 and take slightly more than a year, Vellonakis said.