By Julie Shapiro
FINANCIAL DISTRICT — The new East River Waterfront won’t open for another two months, but it’s already a beautiful place to visit.
Waves lap the edge of the overhauled esplanade, largely muffling noise from the elevated FDR Drive. The wide, open-to-the-sky plazas afford panoramic views of the Brooklyn Bridge and the river. And, beneath a layer of construction dust, the long-promised planters and seating areas are beginning to take shape.
"It’s an amazing thing to see," said Cathy Jones, a senior design associate with SHoP Architects who has been working on the project for years.
The public will finally be able to start enjoying the new East Side park, designed to rival the tonier West Side, when the first two-block section between Maiden Lane and Wall Street opens around the end of this year. Ultimately, the $150 million East River Waterfront will create a 2-mile landscaped walking and bike path from the Battery Maritime Building up to Pier 35, just north of the Manhattan Bridge.
The highlight of this first section is what the city calls a "lookout," a series of stone steps leading down to the water. The bottom step will flood at high tide, offering a rare chance to dip a toe in the East River, Jones said. The steps also drop the esplanade railing well below people’s sightlines, creating an infinity edge effect from street level.
"It literally gets you as close to the water as you can," Jones said as she gave DNAinfo a tour recently.
Planters flank the lookout and will dot the rest of the esplanade as well with trees and native sea grasses. Hexagonal pavers in a variety of gray tones are already creating a playful pixilated pattern. For seating, SHoP designed both traditional benches and more innovative bar-style stools along an undulating railing at the water’s edge.
This two-block section of the esplanade also includes a 4,300-square-foot oval dog run, with whimsical touches such as a tall golden tree and larger-than-life sculptures of a dog bone and a squirrel.
Just north of the dog run, the city hopes to open a 4,000-square foot restaurant this summer in a new pavilion under the FDR Drive. And sometime next fall, the city plans to unveil the new double-decker Pier 15, including a cafe, a maritime education center, recreational space and docking for historic ships.
The project’s goal is to serve not just the many tourists who already visit the South Street Seaport, but to draw local residents and New Yorkers as well, said Nicole Dooskin, assistant vice president at the city Economic Development Corp.
"It will be a really unique experience," said Dooskin, who especially likes the vistas from the upper level of the rebuilt Pier 15.
"There’s nowhere else where you can be on top of a pier just looking out onto the world," she said.