By Jill Colvin
MIDTOWN EAST — Community Board 5 members were given a unique opportunity Monday night to help design a new permanent pedestrian plaza near Grand Central Terminal's doorstep.
Huddled around tables at St. Bartholomew's Church in Midtown East, residents brainstormed their visions for the proprosed plaza, called Pershing Square. The plaza will fill the southbound lanes of Park Avenue between E. 41st and E. 42nd streets — just south of Grand Central in the shadow of the viaduct.
Gathered in groups of five and six with maps and markers in hand, the teams outlined what they'd like to see in the space as staff from Quennell, Rothschild & Partners, the landscape architecture firm chosen by the city to design the space, took note.
One group emphasized amenities for the morning rush, lunch time and evening hours, including coffee stands, food carts and newspaper boxes. Another group suggested a small-scale performance space as well as changing the name to "Grand Central Park."
There were some disagreements, including about bikes, but the assembled group seemed to share the common vision of a serene escape from the chaos inside Grand Central Terminal and the surrounding streets.
"I thought that the suggestions were terrific," said Peter Lempin, executive vice president of the Grand Central Partnership, which spearheaded the plan.
Lempin acknowledged that some of the ideas were impractical given the small space, but he came away impressed with the process.
"It's not the city deciding what goes there. It's the community," Lempin added.
Midtown resident and public member of CB5 Daly Reville agreed.
"This is a great way to do it. It draws the community into identifying uses," she said.
Up until now, the partnership has been operating the stretch as a seasonal recreation space with movable tables and chairs during the summer months in conjunction with the Pershing Square Café.
The partnership was awarded the new plaza project through the Department of Transportation's NYC Plaza Program, which aims to make better use of public space.
The Grand Central Partnership had originally applied to transform both the east and west sides of the street into pedestrian space. However, the DOT chose to move forward with only half, citing costs and traffic, according to Lempin.
While one member of the board raised concerns about the plaza interfering with cabs traveling south, a DOT representative said the department believes the benefits to pedestrians outweigh the costs.
Quennell partner Mark Bunnell said that designers will return to CB5 to share plans for the new plaza at a second public session in two months.
The DOT hopes to begin construction in the fall of 2011, senior project manager Vaidila Kungys said.