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'Delancey Underground' Project Wows Residents

By Patrick Hedlund | September 22, 2011 1:11pm
The project includes an underground lawn and pool.
The project includes an underground lawn and pool.
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RAAD Studio

LOWER EAST SIDE — The team behind an ambitious plan to convert a defunct trolley terminal beneath Delancey Street into a solar-lit subterranean park drew raves from the crowd at a local community board meeting Wednesday, during the project's first public review.

Architect/designer James Ramsey and partner Dan Barasch spoke about the much-hyped concept in front of a packed house at Community Board 3's land use committee meeting, detailing the project's origins and opening the idea up to public input.

"I thought, 'Wow!'" said committee chair David McWater before the presentation.

The project, called Delancey Underground, seeks to transform the abandoned, nearly 2-acre terminal beneath the Williamsburg Bridge off-ramp into a fully functional park space, using solar technology to channel sunlight underground to grow trees and other plants.

Ramsey, a former NASA engineer and founder of RAAD Studio on Chrystie Street, came to the idea after taking a tour of the space with an MTA employee and deciding it was "probably the most compelling of all the [unused] underground spaces" he'd seen.

Citing the Lower East Side's lack of green space, as well as the terminal's location at a "focal point" in the neighborhood, he outlined a plan in which solar rays would be channeled through fiber-optic cable to redistribute natural light underground.

The 60,000-square foot space, which stretches roughly from Clinton to Essex streets, sits adjacent to J/M/Z subway tracks and piqued Ramsey's curiosity for its archaeological features.

"It felt a little bit like Indiana Jones," he said of his visits to the site.

The committee, which was largely receptive of the idea, asked about how the space could be used in a range of ways that would also directly serve the community.

"It would be great to serve a public purpose," said committee member Michael Zisser, "but it could serve many public purposes."

While initially only envisioned as a public park by its creators, the space could be used for other purposes, considering it sits next to the undeveloped lots in the Seward Park Urban Renewal Area (SPURA).

Questions about maintenance and security of the site gave way to discussions about how it could best serve the surrounding area, with the eventual development of SPURA set to bring in hundreds of new residents.

For instance, the space could instead be used for underground parking for the neighborhood, offered committee member Damaris Reyes, who wanted to make sure it "won't just become another tourist attraction."

Others wondered how such a lofty, technologically advanced project would be funded.

While numerous questions still need to be answered regarding the cost and feasibility of the project, the committee noted that no funds from the subsidies set aside for SPURA would be used for it.

Since the project is still in the very preliminary stages, the creators and committee both agreed to wait to discus the proposal in more detail at a later date.