MTA Willing to Discuss Land Transfer for 'Lowline' Park, Founders Say

By Serena Solomon on July 25, 2013 1:55pm | Updated on July 25, 2013 3:18pm

 A full-scale model of the proposed Lowline project that would transform an abandoned trolley terminal into an underground park was unveiled inside a vacant Essex Street warehouse Sept. 12, 2012.
A full-scale model of the proposed Lowline project that would transform an abandoned trolley terminal into an underground park was unveiled inside a vacant Essex Street warehouse Sept. 12, 2012.
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The Lowline

LOWER EAST SIDE — The underground Lowline park could be on track.

The MTA, which holds a long-term lease on the abandoned trolley terminal beneath Delancey Street, is ready to start meeting with city officials to discuss transferring the site so that an innovative park can be built there, according to elected officials and the project's founders. 

“They basically said at our last meeting, ‘We are ready for a phone call from City Hall,’” said Dan Barasch, co-founder of the Lowline, who has been meeting with the MTA about the site for years.

The MTA wants to talk to the city's Economic Development Corporation about how to legally transfer ownership of the 2-acre Williamsburg Trolley Terminal, which could pave the way for the Parks Department to designate it as a permanent public space, Barasch said.

Barasch then hopes to create a subterranean oasis, complete with technology that filters sunlight to underground trees and plants. The project has already received thousands of dollars in private donations, but in order to move forward, it will need the cooperation of the MTA and the city.

A spokesman for the MTA said that any decision on the trolley terminal would have to be jointly made by the city and the MTA, and the EDC did not respond to requests for comment.

But a letter this week from all nine of the area’s elected officials, including Sen. Charles Schumer and State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, also said the MTA was interested in starting negotiations.

"The MTA leadership has signaled to us a willingness to enter into direct discussions to explore the process of transferring the site from MTA to city control and we would greatly appreciate if EDC would begin this process," the elected officials said in the July 23 letter to the EDC.

Community Board 3 and the elected officials have already given their support to the project, which is partly modeled on the successful High Line, built on abandoned elevated train tracks in the Meatpacking District.

The Delancey Street trolley terminal has not been used since 1948 and the MTA has expressed interest in generating income from it as a retail space.

But the deteriorated state of the site means the MTA would have to invest money before the space could be used, Barasch said.

“Given our research of what we have been able to show, I think from an economics point [of view] the site itself would not be very attractive to a developer,” he said.

Even if the city takes over the space from the MTA, Barasch estimates that the project is years away from completion and would require an additional $60 million.

“We would like to partner with the MTA and they would hopefully be very proud to have this next to their subway station,” he said.

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