LOWER MANHATTAN — A contentious city plan that would give over public space to landlords for retail use in a bid to enliven desolate stretches of Water Street is pushing ahead, after winning the support of the City Planning Commission Monday.
The commission voted to approve the rezoning proposal that allows some 20 buildings along Water Street, from Fulton Street to Whitehall Street, to fill in pedestrian arcades — stretches of covered pathways, lined with columns — with retail shops.
Up for grabs is 110,000 square feet of public walkway space. Under the rezoning plan, if landlords choose to fill in the covered space with shops, they would have to make upgrades to the adjacent, expansive and open plaza space — something they are not currently required to do.
Community Board 1 had numerous heated debates about the plaza plan — at issue mainly was whether the trade for upgrades was sufficient enough when it came to giving away public space.
Proponents say the plan — proposed by the Department of City Planning, along with the Economic Development Corporation and the Downtown Alliance, a Lower Manhattan business improvement district organization — would transform what's now dark, underutilized and awkward space with things like coffee shops and small retailers. It would also fill more than 200,000 square feet of open plaza with things like tables, chairs and planters.
A rendering depicts how the arcades and adjacent plaza space could be revitalized. (Courtesy of Department of City Planning)
Community Board 1's Chairwoman Catherine McVay Hughes said that additional stipulations — including making sure each potential retailer comes before CB1 before they build out for approval — has helped the CB get onboard with the plan.
"The intention here is to activate an important corridor for the financial district, make it a safer and a better pedestrian experience," McVay Hughes said. "This can make our neighborhood more resilient, and improve the smaller, forgotten and underutilized space along Water Street."
Landlords would also be required to flood proof their first floors.
The plan still needs City Council approval to be implemented. The City Council will hold a public hearing on the proposal on May 2.