Volume 75, Number 23 | Oct. 26 - Nov. 01, 2005

A special Villager supplement.

Villager photo by Gary He

The Allen Street Mall is in need of a renovation. The Parks Department is crafting a new design scheme, but community groups already have one they like.

After ‘brawl’ on the mall, Parks explains new plan

By Daniel Wallace

How long does it take to develop a mall?

A baffling question, if you ask residents of the Lower East Side as they walk past the barren Allen Street Mall between Broome and Delancey Streets, for which the answer seems to be: seven years, and still running.

“Parks did start the design for the mall’s development seven years ago,” said Carli Smith, a Parks Department spokesperson. “We received federal transportation funds to partner with the Department of Transportation, Lower East Side Business Improvement District and other community groups to establish a demonstration project on the mall between Broome and Delancey.”

However, walking over the cracked concrete, between old benches and scraggly trees, one may be excused for wondering: what, exactly, is being demonstrated?

In May community frustration was exacerbated by the announcement by Mayor Bloomberg and Governor Pataki of a comprehensive plan to infuse $800 million into the development of Lower Manhattan.

One aspect of the plan was a $20 million allocation by the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation for the revitalization of local parks and playgrounds. And, while the Allen Street Mall desolately awaits its own redevelopment, many other L.M.D.C.-funded projects have been completed.

A Parks spokesman said that, since 9/11, the following projects have been completed with L.M.D.C funding: the Sara D. Roosevelt Park; the East River Park ball fields; and the Al Smith playground and recreation center. A number of other projects were completed with city and private funding. And a number of projects are currently underway.

“Look how nice Downtown looks,” said Victor Papa, director of the Two Bridges Neighborhood Council, as he stood on the Allen Street Mall during a recent Parks Department-led scooping meeting about the mall project. He swept his hand over the current dilapidated mall. “And then look at this.”

Like Papa, many community leaders bristled with anger at the scoping meeting two weeks ago, at which Bob Redmond, the Parks representative, fended off accusations and said, repeatedly, that the decision was made to scrap the previous design and start the project over. At the time, Redmond said he did not know why this decision was made.

“I was told by Parks that the design was abandoned because the newly composed Art Commission rejected it,” said Bob Cunin, executive director of the Lower East Side BID.

The commission approves changes to the city’s landscape architecture and street furniture, among other things, both of which concern the redevelopment of the mall.

But the Art Commission said it did not reject the design.

“To clarify,” said Jackie Snyder, a spokesperson for the Art Commission, “the Parks Department has not formally submitted this project to the Art Commission for final review, and consequently the Art Commission has not taken final action. The project received conditional preliminary approval in October 2002.”

The Parks Department clarified the reason for the design’s rejection.

“We are revisiting the design,” said Smith, “partially due to the fact that we’ll now be redoing the remainder of the malls with L.M.D.C. funding.”

Smith said that when the Allen Street Mall was a demonstration project — focusing specifically on the development of one “model mall,” rather than the redevelopment of its entire length — the design became elaborate and overworked. Parks now plans to develop all of the malls along Allen and Pike Streets, doing the project in three different segments — Houston to Delancey Streets; Delancey to Madison Streets; and Madison Street to the East River waterfront. Parks wants to incorporate elements from the previous design throughout the corridors.

“Essentially we plan to spread out those elements,” said Smith. “And cover more corridors, instead of keeping it all concentrated on just one.”

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