WASHINGTON HEIGHTS — The city broke ground Friday on a long-awaited project to create a pedestrian plaza on West 175th Street that will serve everyone from local vendors to performance artists.
Under the Department of Transportation’s public plazas program, the block-long space between Broadway and Wadsworth Avenue will be transformed to include café tables and chairs, street trees, a public bathroom and an information kiosk.
The project, which is being funded by a grant from the city, should be completed by Aug. 1, according to the Department of Design and Construction.
“After years of planning and a $3 million investment by the city, today we come together to see a space our community has valued for decades transformed into a 14,000-square-foot town square,” City Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez said Friday.
This stretch of 175th street, known as the Plaza de Las Americas, has served as a community marketplace for years, featuring a greenmarket twice a week and offering space for local vendors at other times.
“La Plaza” will still serve as a gathering place for entrepreneurs from the Washington Heights Street Vendors Association, as vendors for the first time will have access to water and electricity for their booths, officials said. The plaza will accommodate between 40 and 50 vendors at any given time.
The design plan pays tribute to the Dominican heritage of many Uptown residents with a paving design inspired by town squares of the Caribbean, the DOT said. La Plaza will also feature "Fountain," a functioning piece of art by Esther Partegás that will be decorated with colorful panels featuring geometric patterns.
“I think our vision for the plaza is that it’s going to be a real center for cultural and economic activity,” said DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg. “It’s going to be vibrant and alive with markets, food, hopefully children playing.”
The plaza, which abuts the historic United Palace Theater, may also be used as a performance space for the many arts programs that call the building home, said Bishop Xavier Eikerenkoetter, whose church owns and operates the building.
The city will invest an additional $2 million for projects related to the plaza, including an update of aging infrastructure near the site. The city has already started replacing the 130–year-old water mains that run beneath this section of 175th Street, and it also plans to upgrade catch basins, street lighting, traffic signals, and sidewalk and street surfaces surrounding the plaza.
The redesign has been in the works for seven years. In 2008, the Washington Heights Inwood Development Corporation, which manages the site, applied for and was accepted to the DOT’s NYC Plaza Program. The initiative aims to create public spaces for residents to enjoy within a 10-minute walk from their homes.
The plaza was initially scheduled for completion in the spring of 2013, but delays on related projects, including the water main replacement, pushed the project back.
However, DDC Commissioner Dr. Feniosky Peña-Mora said those hurdles have been overcome and that the plaza will be ready for an August opening.
Councilman Rodriguez said Friday’s groundbreaking was just the beginning of what he hoped was an ongoing revitalization of the area.
“I would love to see, as the commissioners know, two additional plazas in Northern Manhattan coming in the near future,” he said, mentioning possible locations in Inwood and Fort George. “As we are doing here, I know there is great potential."