MIDTOWN — Local leaders and business owners are castigating a city proposal to close Vanderbilt Avenue and transform the western edge of Grand Central Terminal into a tree-lined, pedestrians-only "gateway" to East Midtown.
The proposal, part of the city's wider initiative to rezone a 78-block portion of East Midtown to allow newer and far larger skyscrapers, was presented with concept illustrations at a meeting of the Multi-Community Board Task Force on East Midtown Wednesday.
"The department has identified a variety of strategies for transforming the pedestrian environment throughout East Midtown, including making Vanderbilt Avenue a beautiful distinguish gateway," the Planning Department said in a statement. "The conceptual designs introduce key elements that make public space effective and enjoyable — shade, places to sit, and places to meet."
The plaza, which includes widened sidewalks, curb extensions, benches, planters, trees, new lighting and larger setbacks, would be paid for by developers constructing new towers in the East Midtown rezoning area. The zone runs from East 57th to East 39th streets, largely between Fifth and Second avenues, the Planning Department says.
Members of the task force, however, said the proposal lacked crucial details, and labeled it "totally fantasy."
"They haven't estimated the cost. They haven't analyzed the future maintenance. They just provided exquisite drawings — kind of like just a beautiful garden show," task force chairwoman Lola Finkelstein told DNAinfo.com New York. "The likelihood that it would not still be dark, dreary canyon is not promising."
Local business owners also voiced strong reservations about the proposal, which would apparently eliminate vehicular access to three loading docks and eight freight entrances along Vanderbilt Avenue, which runs between 42nd and 47th streets.
"This loading dock and handicapped entrance is critical for this building," said Anthony Bergamo, vice chairman of MB Real Estate, which owns 345 Madison Ave., a building that runs to Vanderbilt Avenue between 43rd and 44th streets. "Look, everyone wants more open space for pedestrians. But if you come down to the neighborhood, you'll see garbage trucks, delivery trucks. It's the loading area for the whole area, and you're creating a lot of traffic for no reason."
The Multi-Board Task Force, comprised of boards 1, 4, 5 and 6, has not taken a vote on either the Vanderbilt Avenue proposal or the larger East Midtown Rezoning Plan.
The body has tentatively scheduled its next meeting for April 18.