By Julie Shapiro
BATTERY PARK CITY — Big changes are coming to the World Financial Center.
Brookfield Properties hopes to turn the Battery Park City office complex into a restaurant and retail destination by the middle of 2013, executives said at a Community Board 1 meeting Monday night.
Brookfield plans to tear down the building’s Grand Staircase to make way for the floods of commuters expected once the World Trade Center site is complete. The removal of the stairs would expand the palm tree-studded Winter Garden by 30 percent.
Brookfield also plans to create a two-level market and 714-seat food court in the retail space just south of the Winter Garden, with cafes and test kitchens by the city’s top restaurateurs.
David Cheikin, vice president of leasing for Brookfield, said he hopes to revive the Financial Center’s sleepy, underutilized retail by serving local residents in addition to office workers.
"We believe we can take [the WFC] from a five-day-a-week retail corridor to a seven-day [corridor]," Cheikin said Monday night.
Many Battery Park City residents strongly object to demolishing the Grand Staircase, which was rebuilt after 9/11 and has since become a place of community gathering. City Planning Commissioner Amanda Burden also wants to preserve the stairs.
However, Brookfield executives said that if the stairs stay in place, they would create a choke point by blocking the exit of the new pedestrian tunnel beneath West Street, scheduled to open by the end of 2012.
"We like those stairs, too," Lawrence Graham, a Brookfield vice president, told CB1 Monday. "We wish we could have found something different. Obviously, it would have been cheaper for us [to keep the stairs in place]."
Brookfield has already spent two years and several million dollars studying the options, Cheikin said.
While some CB1 members questioned whether the stairs really had to go, others said it was worth sacrificing them for Brookfield’s new vision of the space.
"Although I loved the stairs…we have to move on," said Liz Williams, a Financial District resident whose children first learned to walk on the marble staircase. "I think this is a terrific plan."
Brookfield will present the proposal a second time at 6 p.m. Oct. 5 at a meeting of CB1’s Battery Park City Committee, 1 World Financial Center, 24th floor.