Speaking publicly about the 700,000-square-foot plaza's closure for the first time this week, JPMorgan Chase officials denied that they shut down access to the open space in response to Occupy Wall Street, despite the fact that it happened a day before OWS protesters arrived in an attempt to move into the plaza last September.
"It has nothing to do with that," Karen McGuinness, a vice president at JPMorgan Chase, told skeptical residents at Thursday night's Community Board 1 meeting.
Downtown residents were upset to lose one of the largest open spaces in the heart of the heavily developed Financial District. Their frustration grew as months passed and the plaza at Liberty and Nassau streets remained closed, with no visible sign of JPMorgan Chase's promised construction taking place. A lawsuit seeking more information about the project was filed earlier this year.
JPMorgan Chase officials said the plaza, which surrounds the bank's skyscraper at One Chase Manhattan Plaza, had to close after the bank found "extensive leaking" that posed immediate safety concerns. The bank has spent the past 10 months preparing to do the repair work, which has not yet begun, McGuinness said.
Construction will include replacing all 37 drains on the plaza and caulking and waterproofing the stone pavers, said John Babieracki, a managing director at JPMorgan Chase. The bank will also replace many of the plaza's trees.
The work could start as soon as this week and will finish sometime next spring, by May at the latest, Babieracki said.
Once the construction is complete, the bank expects to reopen the plaza to the public, said Bill Viets, a managing director at JPMorgan Chase.
"It is our intention to operate that plaza as it has traditionally been operated," Viets said.
Unlike Zuccotti Park and other privately owned public spaces in Lower Manhattan, Chase Manhattan Plaza is not required by law to be open to the public — but many nearby residents said they thought of it as part of their backyard.
David Colman, a Nassau Street resident for the past 15 years, said he walked his dog in the plaza daily and was so angry about its closure that he recently closed his accounts at Chase.
"That plaza belongs to the community and the people in it and it deserves to be open," Colman told the JPMorgan Chase officials Thursday night.
Several CB1 members questioned the bank's statement that the closure had nothing to do with Occupy Wall Street — especially since security guards at the plaza had told them the fences went up because of the protesters, not because of a waterproofing project.
But the officials replied that they, like the community, want to see the plaza reopen as soon as possible.
"We're as anxious as you are to get this work done," Babieracki said.