By Carla Zanoni
WASHINGTON HEIGHTS — Upper Manhattan is one step closer to getting its own town square.
After meeting with residents last week to discuss the future of the outdoor pedestrian Plaza de las Americas, the Department of Design and Construction (DDC) plans to present a final draft of its design during a March community board meeting.
The DDC unveiled its preliminary design draft last week, laying out plans for amenities such as permanent benches and bistro-style seating, decorative pavements, public toilets, an information kiosk and drinking fountains. An artist’s work will also be featured prominently in the plaza.
Once the design is finalized and approved by this fall, construction should begin in the spring, to be completed by spring 2013.
Some changes to the final design may be made before the presentation scheduled for CB12’s Traffic and Transportation committee meeting in March, in order to incorporate further input shared during a Jan. 31 community meeting.
Talks about the outdoor market that sits beside the United Palace Theater on a one-block stretch of West 175th Street, between Broadway and Wadsworth Avenue, have been going on for more than a year.
Although the plaza was created in 1994 to alleviate some of the vending congestion that consumed West 181st Street, many residents and business owners say it has become a poorly-organized space for vendors rather than an inviting community square.
The Washington Heights and Inwood Development Corporation (WHIDC), a nonprofit that manages the plaza and its vendors, has been working with the DDC since 2009 to find a way to make the space more of a "town square."
Last year the plaza was selected to be part of the Department of Transportation’s "Public Plazas" program, which endeavors to create open community spaces for residents to enjoy, within a 10-minute walk from their homes. The plaza's design was the subject of an initial public discussion in September 2009.
CB12 chair Pamela Palanque-North said she was excited by the prospect of having a cohesive meeting place in Washington Heights.
"CB12 is anticipating a true enhancement to this district, when the Plaza de las Americas is inaugurated," she wrote in an email. "The Community Board has invested considerable time to make sure that the residents of our district have had the opportunity to provide their ideas as per the design, functioning and the art work to be installed at the Plaza."