“We’re going to be surrounded by construction,” said Jeanie Chin, of the Civic Center Residents Coalition. “I think this would be a disaster…. We can’t afford to dig up the streets again.”
Starting in about seven months, the city plans to realign Chatham Square’s five-way intersection based on the assumption that Park Row, which closed after 9/11 to protect 1 Police Plaza, will not reopen anytime soon. The city Department of Transportation will also add a pedestrian promenade along Park Row and green space to Chatham Square. The project will cost roughly $50 million and will finish in the summer of 2012.
“It’s something that’s overdue,” said Josh Kraus, who works for the D.O.T.’s Lower Manhattan borough commissioner. “We’ve had an ad-hoc system in place since 2001, and it’s time for us to make changes.”
The city will break Chatham Square into two separate intersections, aligning E. Broadway with Worth St. and the Bowery with St. James Pl. A new pedestrian promenade on the east side of Park Row will run from Chatham Square to the Brooklyn Bridge, framed with cherry trees, tall grasses and curved red benches.
“We’ve tried to make this read and feel like a gateway to Chinatown,” Kraus said.
But Chin and others object to the project because they see Chatham Square as a critical intersection and are worried that closing it for construction will back up traffic on Worth St., one of Lower Manhattan’s few unobstructed east-west connectors.
“We don’t see the urgency of having to do Chatham Square right now,” said Paul Lee, a former Chinatown business owner.
Lee wants the city to wait until the economy improves, so businesses are not hit with construction at the same time as sales are already dropping.
“It’s never easy when there is construction,” said Kraus, from the D.O.T. “We do the best we can to minimize disruptions to the community. We certainly have a lot of practice right now.”
Small businesses in Chatham Square will be eligible for the Lower Manhattan Development Corp.’s Small Firm Assistance Program, which compensates businesses on streets closed by construction.
Chatham Square will also get a 20,000-square-foot triangular plaza between Mott St. and the Bowery. The plaza’s center will have a water feature with trees and seating, with open space around it and plantings around the perimeter.
Additionally, the city will upgrade the security barriers around Park Row, making them permanent and more similar to bollards elsewhere in the city.
Kraus said the city has already taken community input into consideration in making changes to the plan. Park Row, now two lanes in each direction, was slated to go to one lane in each direction. But the community was worried that narrowing Park Row that much would cause backups at the entrance checkpoint. The D.O.T. decided to keep two lanes entering Park Row from Chatham Square, so buses and residents will be able to enter even while the Police Department screens trucks off to the side.
Also based on community feedback, the D.O.T. decided to keep a lane open on the west side of the Bowery for deliveries during the day and parking at night.
Money for the project will come from the city and possibly the L.M.D.C., which conducted the early planning for the Chatham Square changes. The L.M.D.C. had informally committed to help fund the Chatham Square project several years ago but made no formal allocation. A D.O.T. representative told Community Board 1 last week the L.M.DC. had promised money to the project, but this week the D.O.T. would not comment on the specifics of the funding, besides saying the city would contribute.
The broad strokes of the street reconfiguration are final, but the city still wants input from the community on the landscaping and open-space changes. Residents will have the chance to weigh at a town-hall meeting sponsored by Community Board 3 Tues., Dec. 2 at P.S. 124 at 40 Division St. The meeting will start at 6 p.m., but those who want to speak should arrive at 5:30.