By Gabriela Resto-Montero
UPPER EAST SIDE — City planners behind a sweeping plan to transform Manhattan's East River waterfront into a "blueway" envision a series of connected parks, floating docks, accessible pools and sustainable shores all along the island.
Those plans are well and good, but residents of the Upper East Side said at a meeting on the state of the East River Esplanade Thursday that the city first needs to fix what's already broken on the path before diving into a complete overahul of the waterway.
"We're talking about vents, we're not just talking about a pretty little place to take a walk," said Terry Grace, 65, a resident of 530 E. 76th St., who said part of the esplanade next to her building frequentlly floods.
"We can't have that again," Grace said of a particularly bad flood in the 1990s.
Joggers on the esplanade — which runs from East 63rd to East 125th streets between the East River and FDR Drive — deal with uneven pavement, pet owners worry about missing guard rails along the drive, and sinkholes block the path on what are already narrow stretches.
"What we have here is an esplanade that has been allowed to deteriorate over time," said Councilwoman Jessica Lappin, who formed a task force with Rep. Carolyn Maloney to revitalize the park.
Lappin's plan to restore the esplanade includes easy maintenance fixes like restoring guard rails and fixing sinkholes, but also big-ticket items like repairing a missing piece of the seawall at East 70th Street.
Both offiicals and residents said that finding the money to pay for the improvement project, which could cost up to $100 million, according to Lappin, will be the biggest challenge to restoring the esplanade.
Some neighbors suggested the Upper East Side follow the West Side's lead and create a conservancy to look for private investors.
Other ideas included allowing concessions, like the popular restaurant Shake Shack, on the esplanade.
"Ideally, we'd be funded to take this on as one massive project," said Joshua Laird, assistant commissioner for planning for the Parks Department, at the meeting.
"It really becomes a question of the funding coming together," Laird said.