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Battery Park City Residents Fight to Save Beloved Winter Garden Staircase

By Julie Shapiro | March 4, 2011 12:23pm

By Julie Shapiro

DNAinfo Reporter/Producer

BATTERY PARK CITY — The push to save the Grand Staircase in the World Financial Center is gaining momentum.

Residents are banding together to stop Brookfield Properties from demolishing the sweeping marble steps, which were rebuilt after 9/11 and have become a community gathering place.

"To take it away, to destroy it, destroys a lot of people who looked at [the stairs] as their rebuilding and their hope," said Justine Cuccia, a Battery Park City resident who recently started a group called Save the Staircase. "It's not going to be the same without it."

Brookfield Properties announced last year that the stairs would have to go to make way for a new underground passageway from the rebuilt World Trade Center into the World Financial Center Winter Garden. The thousands of commuters who flow into Battery Park City each day would hit the solid wall of the back of the stairs unless they are removed, Brookfield said.

Many local residents say the steps, rebuilt after 9/11, are an important memorial to the attacks.
Many local residents say the steps, rebuilt after 9/11, are an important memorial to the attacks.
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DNAinfo/Julie Shapiro

"Brookfield is not doing this out of some evil motivation," said Lawrence Graham, a Brookfield vice president who defended the plans at a Community Board 1 meeting this week. "We built [the staircase], and we rebuilt it [after 9/11]. The steps are very emotional to us as well."

At Tuesday night's meeting, Graham tried to dispel some of the rumors that have been cropping up about Brookfield's plans.

Brookfield won't make any money on removing the stairs — it will cost them $25 million and will not yield any additional retail space, Graham said. Brookfield plans to add more seating to the Winter Garden once the stairs are gone and will continue to offer free arts programming there, he said. Also, the viewing platform at the top of the stairs that overlooks the World Trade Center site will remain in place.

"I don't know what else I can say," Graham told the residents. "As we get different ideas, we will look at them, but we have to move forward."

The Battery Park City Authority, which owns the land beneath the World Financial Center, has not yet approved Brookfield's plans. After hearing from concerned residents, the authority has hired a bevy of consultants, including engineers and traffic experts, to do an independent analysis, President Gayle Horwitz said.

"We're taking our time…to make sure we've turned over every stone," Horwitz said.

City Planning Commissioner Amanda Burden also may have a say in the removal of the stairs.

Frank Scandiffio, a member of the 32BJ Service Employees International Union, attended Tuesday's meeting to say that the hundreds of union members who work in the World Financial Center oppose the removal of the staircase and would turn out en masse for future protests.

Linda Belfer, chairwoman of CB1's Battery Park City Committee, said that even though nearly 10 years have passed since 9/11, the memories are still fresh.

"A lot of us lost a lot on 9/11," Belfer told Graham, beginning to choke up. "I cling to those things that are still there."

Graham appeared moved and said he, too, had strong memories from 10 years ago. He was downtown on 9/11 and broke his foot the following day while going through the rubble. He then worked to rebuild the staircase for the community, a feat accomplished one year later.

"We didn't come to this proposal lightly," Graham said.