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Phase One of DUMBO's Facelift Begins

By Janet Upadhye | July 19, 2012 9:24am | Updated on July 19, 2012 4:02pm

DUMBO — Last year, the DUMBO neighborhood was awarded $20 million dollars to restore the streets and build up the Pearl Street pedestrian triangle. On Tuesday night, the Department of Transportation, The DUMBO Improvement District, bid-winning design company AECOM and community members took the first step in envisioning DUMBO’s facelift.

Creative minds went to work. One group talked about spray centers for cooling off bikers in the summer, romantic lighting, and establishing a unique character to DUMBO that highlights its history and where it is today.

Many seemed to agree that the triangle should be returned to its original state as a large open space, ridding the plaza of its current seating and potted plants.

“It is not a very pleasant place to sit,” said Josh Wise of Etsy referring to noise from the overhead Q train. “We would love to have some materials in place that soften the assault on your ears.”

But some community members were upset about DOT’s work in the neighborhood over the past 20 years and distrusting of the process.

“DOT has systematically covered over the Belgian blocks of our streets for twenty years with asphalt,” said Doreen Gallo of the DUMBO Neighborhood Alliance. “They are just knocking down historic landmarks right and left.”

Nicholas Mosquera, a spokesman for DOT, said that the department was rebuilding several DUMBO and Vinegar Hill Streets using Belgian block.

DOT is also "providing additional pedestrian space, improving area infrastructure and enhancing safety for all roads users," Mosquera said.

Alexandria Sica, Executive Director of the DUMBO Improvement District was positive about changes taking place in the neighborhood. "The entire project is about restoring blocks to the street and ending the era of asphalting over DUMBO's historic streets," she said. "This is a new day in DUMBO. It takes a huge investment to really redo the infrastructure and we're extremely happy that the city is finally dedicating funds to bring back our blocks."

Others were less concerned with DOT’s role in DUMBO development and more with how their businesses will be affected by construction. People working at 140 Plymouth St., which borders the triangle, wanted to make sure that the street would be accessible during construction. Their concerns were met by a DOT assurance that businesses would not be affected.

The Pearl Street Triangle was once an open space, according to Gallo who has lived in the neighborhood since 1980. Then it was turned into a parking lot and now it has become a temporary plaza.

“It looks Disney-fied,” said Gallo. “We want the historic feel it used to have back.”

Sica is confident that DUMBO Improvement District and DOT can make that happen.

"We can use the historic industrial charm of the neighborhood to define our public spaces in the 21st century is an exciting challenge," she said. "I think we got a ton of good ideas at the session."

Leaving the meeting with ideas and concerns in hand, the new design architects will come up with preliminary ideas and present them back to the group in two months. Construction is set to begin in 2014.