MIDTOWN— Forget painted blue walkways and multicolored beach chairs.
The Times Square of the future will feature dark, concrete flooring punctuated by small metal rivets designed to bring some of the grit back to the Great White Way, according to a multi-million-dollar redesign plan unveiled Monday night.
The plan, which will officially cement the plazas as permanent structures, calls for the leveling of surfaces across the plazas from 42nd to 47th street to create a continuous pedestrian space, with no vestiges of the old curbs and sidewalks that used to mark the roadway.
“We want to remove the ups and downs and make it simpler and flatter,” said Craig Dykers, an architect with Snohetta Design, who gave members of Midtown Community Board 5’s Transportation Committee a sneak-peak at the $27 million preliminary plan on behalf of the city’s Department of Design and Construction.
Snohetta is also the team behind the 9/11 Memorial Museum at the World Trade Center site.
Under the proposed design, the ground surface of the plazas would be made from two tones of dark concrete pavers, arranged in an alternating brick pattern to differentiate it from a regular street. Some sections would also feature embedded stainless steel “pucks” about the size of nickels, intended to add some pizazz by reflecting light off the marquees around them.
“They’re very tiny, but they have a great effect,” said Dyker, who said his team chose a dark color for the plazas not only to keep them clean, but to stay true to the square’s history.
“There’s that film noir quality that some people have about Times Square… and the grittiness of the street is a part of it,” he said. “It’s not taking its cues from pretty little things in Europe or something. It’s kind of like the heart of New York City. It’s a heavy, muscular thing,” he said.
In addition to the surface changes, the new design calls for the installation of numerous large benches of different heights and sizes. In addition to providing more seating for large groups, the new furniture is part of a larger effort to create distinct spaces within the plazas, to make them easier to navigate and to keep throngs of milling tourists away from hurried office workers rushing to and from work.
“The larger goal is to create a situation and environment in Times Square that’s friendly for both New Yorkers and tourists alike,” he said.
Another benefit of the design, he said, is the inclusion of new infrastructure to cut down on the amount of equipment needed to stage large events.
It will also restore some of the aging infrastructure below Broadway, which hasn’t been rebuilt in more than 50 years and still has trolley tracks running beneath the asphalt, a Department of Transportation spokesman said.
While other visions for the square had focused on adding new lights and new attractions, Dykers said he wanted to make the ground level as simple as possible to keep the focus squarely on the “frenetic” billboards above.
“What we have today is essentially a situation where there’s a great deal of activity on all the surfaces,” he said, arguing that the competition “is kind of sucking the energy out of the marquees.”
He said he hopes the plazas will feel both bigger and less cluttered once the transformation is complete.
After the presentation, board members said they were impressed with the redesign.
“I think it’s terrific,” said member Daly Reville, who was among the majority of committee members who gave the plan a “thumbs-up.”
“The dark color is very fascinating,” agreed member Nancy Aber Goshow, who had concerns about a potential “heat island effect," but was assured the paving would be reflective enough to avoid absorbing heat.
Another point of concern was a new bike lane that will run through the square, traveling back and forth between Broadway and Seventh Avenue. Under the current plan, the lane would enter Times Square from the north on Broadway, switch over to Seventh avenue at West 47th street, switch from the west side to the east side of the street at 45th street, and then cross back over to Broadway at 42nd Street.
“That’ll be tough,” said member Alan Miles, an avid cyclist, who worried about a lack of separation between bikers and pedestrians.
Tim Tompkins, president of the Times Square Alliance, which has been working with the city on the plan, said he was pleased by the reception during the first unveiling.
“I’m glad that people feel positive about it,” he said, noting that while 60 to 70 percent of residents tell pollsters they liked the idea of the plazas, 60 to 70 percent want them to look better.
Officials from the DDC said they hope to start constructional in the fall of 2012 and will make every effort to keep traffic flowing as the work. The project is set to be complete by 2014.