Flood Protection Planning Begins for Long Stretch of Battery Park City

In 2012, Hurricane Sandy fooded the north end of Battery Park City, including Rockefeller Park, shown here. The Battery Park City Authority is now planning to protect the neighborhood from storms far worse. Photo: Carl Glassman/Tribeca Trib

Aug. 11, 2021

Public planning for the mammoth task of flood protecting a giant swath of Battery Park City, from Stuyvesant High School to the South Cove, has begun.

The Battery Park City Authority and its contractor, AECOM, last week presented a preview of the work that lies ahead for designing the neighborhood’s most complex system of barriers against future storms and sea level rise.

By the 2050s, according to estimates, nearly all Battery Park City will be subject to flooding from a catastrophic 100-year storm—an event that each year will have a 1 percent chance of occuring. 

The systems designers will be challenged to integrate barriers into the landscape without impacting the use of popular neighborhood amenities, like parks, playgrounds, marinas, esplanades and more.

“A lot of these spaces are going to have to change in different ways,” Heather Morgan, from AECOM, said at the remote public meeting on Aug. 4. “But,” she added, “we’re going to work collaboratively with you to make sure those changes are something that you want and that you’re a part of.” (Public engagement, in fact, has been part of the Authority's resiliency planning process since it began more than three years ago.)

Gwen Dawson, the Authority’s Vice President of Real Property, said final design plans are not expected for another 18 months and, like Morgan, she emphasized that community members will be heard. “We don’t have a secret plan or design someplace that we’re holding back and not sharing with you,” she said. “That has not been developed. We want you to be involved in that process.”

The barrier system, to run nearly the entire western length of the neighborhood, is meant to withstand storm surges as high as 15 to 21 feet. It is one of three systems planned for the neighborhood and part of what is called the North/West Battery Park City Resiliency Project. The north portion, discussed during earlier presentations, is expected to include a small part of Tribeca. Another is designed to protect Battery Park City’s southern end, and a third is dedicated to the ball fields.

A single team, to be selected next February, will both design and build the project, with promised input from the public along the way. (That process is called progressive design build.) In the meantime, conceptual design “approaches” are expected to be shown at a public meeting in December. 

Dawson said the preliminary budget for the north/west project is $300 million, though it is too soon to give a final estimate. (She put the cost of protecting the southern end of Battery Park City at $200 million, $8 million for the ball fields.) 

The neighborhood’s varying landscape features present a slew of goals and challenges, said AECOM’s Garrett Avery, who detailed a few of them, below.

Rockefeller Park

Avery said integrating flood barriers into the landscape and protecting active recreation facilities, including the park’s playgrounds, is a priority. Maintaining the same amount of green space is another design objective. “We could try to offset whatever impact or percentage of impact to existing green space by creating new green space,” he said.

Belvedere Plaza and Ferry Terminal

“This is where the alignment [of the barrier system] starts to become very tricky along the western edge because of the width and the complex subsurface conditions,” he said, adding that the high volume of foot traffic and the transition from expansive Rockefeller Park to a narrow corridor also makes it a design and construction challenge.  

North Cove

“This is what we believe to be truly the most complex of all the west alignment,” Avery said. “That is mostly due to the incredibly challenging subsurface conditions including PATH tunnels in and out of the World Trade Center and World Trade Center-related infrastructure.”

South Esplanade

Avery noted that this area’s character is “defined by a very strong visual buffer on the eastern edge in the form of a series of residential buildings and open space separating them as well as shade trees and public art installations (“The Upper Room” at Albany Street and “Rector Gate” at Rector Place), and extensive views of the Hudson River all along the path. “We are certain to be treating this in its own unique way,” he said.

South Cove

Avery called the wooded glade between the rivers edge and walkways “a unique experience” that requires some of the highest levels of intervention. “So it’s going to be a series of working back and forth with the community and our design team to get the performance standards right in this area.”