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Officials Already Moving Forward on Plan for East River Greenway

By Mary Johnson | October 12, 2011 9:01am
City Officials gathered to announce the deal at a press conference on Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2011, at City Hall.
City Officials gathered to announce the deal at a press conference on Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2011, at City Hall.
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DNAinfo/Jill Colvin

TURTLE BAY — The ink is barely dry on the memorandum of understanding that officials signed last week, but steps are already being taken to close a gap in the East River greenway.

The deal puts in place a series of triggers that allows those involved to get started on actions ranging from the possible relocation of some UN offices, the closure of Robert Moses Playground, and the development of a park at Asser Levy place between 23rd and 25th streets.

The entire cost of the project is estimated to be between $200 and $400 million dollars.

“We do think it was a huge step to get completed last week,” State Sen. Liz Krueger said. “The formalization of the whole thing really gives us a road plan to go forward with and guarantees that the dollars will be used as they were intended.”

The funds for the project will come only if the United Nations strikes a deal with the city to buy the western portion of Robert Moses Playground, located at East 42nd Street and First Avenue, in order to build a new office tower.

That will provide new  space for UN employees currently working out of two city-owned buildings across the street from the main UN complex. When the UN vacates those buildings, the city can sell them.

Funds from that sale and Robert Moses Playground can then go toward building an esplanade from East 38th to East 60th streets.

Should the deal with the UN go forward, completion of the greenway would still be several years down the road. But an engineering study is already under way to determine what needs to be done to construct an esplanade that runs above the East River, Krueger said.

Once that study is complete, work can begin on the pier formerly occupied by Consolidated Edison that runs from East 38th to East 41st streets. The utility agreed to close out its lease with the city to the tune of $13 million.

Krueger said that entire amount has been transferred to the city. The funds are now ready and waiting to be used to renovate the pier once the engineers give the all clear.

Within the next couple of weeks or months, Krueger said $3 million will be transferred from the United Nations Development Corporation to the Eastside Greenway and Park Fund, which was established as part of the deal to administer funds raised through the land swap.

Those dollars can kickstart the work needed to convert Asser Levy Place, a stretch of road that runs between East 23rd and East 25th streets near the East River, into a park to offset the loss of Robert Moses Playground.  

That lost park space was a major sticking point for many area residents, who came out in force at several public forums held to debate the project.

But Krueger said the playground will remain untouched and open for playing until its officially taken off the list of city parks, which could take two or three years.

In addition, if the United Nations decides not to build on the site of Robert Moses Playground, Krueger said the city will still come out ahead in terms of open space.

Regardless of what happens in terms of construction, the city will get to keep that initial $3 million payment, she said. A new park will be built at Asser Levy Place, and the former Con Edison pier will be renovated.

“Even if everything goes wrong after this, we still have these wins for the community,” Krueger said.

Pledges that the area will see improvements whether or not the whole deal is approved did little to ease the concerns of those opposed to the deal.

“If it’s so, that would be very nice,” said Vivienne Gilbert, president of the Windsor Owners Corporation at 5 Tudor City Place and an outspoken opponent of the deal.

“But I just don’t feel that there’s been enough transparency so that I can really believe that that’s what’s going to happen.”

Gilbert said that she and some of the other Tudor City residents opposed to the project have serious doubts that the UN will choose to build on the site of Robert Moses Playground.

She pointed to a feasibility study the UN released in early September, which indicates a preference for building on the north lawn of the UN campus over purchasing outside land for construction.

Building on the north lawn would allow the UN to erect a much larger building, with 1.45 million square feet of space. That will not fulfill all the UN’s space needs, according to the study, but it comes closer than if a building was constructed on the site of Robert Moses Playground.

The terms of the memorandum of understanding (MOU) limit the height of a structure built in that location to 39 stories. That size would give the office tower only 900,000 square feet of space.

“They got what they wanted,” Gilbert said, of the plan's deal to remove Robert Moses Playground from the city's list of parks.

"But I don’t think there’s going to be any money for an esplanade.”

The UN study does note in several places that the findings may have to be modified or reconsidered if an MOU was signed, as it was last Wednesday.

And in an interview with Bloomberg, a spokesman for UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon left the door open for either scenario to play out.

“The UN is appreciative of the efforts that would enable us to consolidate our offices that are currently spread out in more than half a dozen locations around the city,” Martin Nesirky told Bloomberg.

“The UN is looking forward to an invitation to enter lease discussions,” he added.