Volume 76, Number 2 | May 31 - June 6 2006

Villager photo by Jefferson Siegel

Kayakers say this strip of sand is tailor-made for making landings.

Kayakers’ bridge beach dream doesn’t float at C.B. 1

By Jefferson Siegel

Apart from kayakers, the tide of public sentiment appears to have turned against a plan to transform a small strip of sand under the Brooklyn Bridge into a public beach. Four years ago, the board in an advisory vote said they opposed the beach, and at the May 22 Community Board 1 Waterfront Committee meeting, board members and the audience expressed strong doubts about the beach.

The narrow sand strip, about 250 feet long and 70 feet wide at low tide, has been on the board’s radar for several years as part of the development of the East Side River waterfront from the recently refurbished Battery Maritime Building north to East River Park. The $150 million project is being funded by the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation.

The beach remained part of the plan as the City Planning Department and the L.M.D.C. developed it over the last few years, but was not included when the project was approved last year. A city financial consultant spoke at the C.B. 1 meeting about the waterfront project’s financial plan and said the studies are still in the preliminary stages, but he hoped the first parts of the renovated waterfront would open in three years.

A presentation on the beach didn’t propose a sandy oasis for hot-weather lounging. Rather, Rob Buchanan, a Tribeca resident and avid kayaker, envisioned a boat and kayak landing at the end of Dover St.

“I row in the harbor a lot and that’s one of the places we land,” Buchanan said about his idea for the boat landing. Showing photos of the Downtown waterfront, explained that the seawalls surrounding Downtown effectively blocked access to the rivers. Buchanan said, on the Hudson River, Pier 40 at W. Houston St. was an inconvenient landing point, while the get-downs to the water at Chelsea Piers near 23rd St. and formerly by the Downtown Boathouse at Pier 26 at N. Moore St. — which is currently under renovation — were also unsatisfactory.

“It’s actually the perfect landing spot,” Buchanan said of the East River beach. “It’s in the lee of Manhattan Island. It’s where you want to go if you’re in a small boat.

“This is the central spot to go to Governors Island, Red Hook, across the Brooklyn Bridge, up to Queens,” he noted. “That’s why it could be a fantastic public landing for the community.”

A Downtown Boathouse member added, “The community has gone absolutely bonkers for kayaking. They’re sick of this elevated wall on the river.”

But several board and audience members criticized the plan. Joe Hartigan of Rockaway was a firefighter stationed near the proposed beach for 12 years.

“We would respond to people in the water,” he said of the hazards of easy access to the East River. “That is a dangerous spot right there, because people will walk in there and don’t realize it’s getting deeper. Once they can’t touch the bottom, they’re gone.”

Buchanan, however, argued that the water at the spot — between the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges — is calm.

“There’s also a really large back eddy between those two bridges,” he said, “and that is a very useful thing if you’re a paddler or a rower.”

“Not if you’re an 8-year-old kid, though,” Hartigan chimed in.

The committee didn’t vote on the issue, instead tabling it for future discussion and consideration.

“I’m not a proponent of the beach, quite frankly,” said Linda Roche, chairperson of the C.B.1 Waterfront Committee, afterwards. “I do worry about children and drownings.” She was familiar with other small, popular neighborhood beaches in Brooklyn. However, she said, “I just don’t think it’s a viable option for us.”

Also at the meeting, Todd Poole, vice president of Bay Area Economics, a firm retained as a consultant for the East River waterfront renovation project, discussed financing ideas to sustain the 2.1-mile greenway.

“We are looking at revenue-generation opportunities that include concession areas, such as food concessions, both permanent and nonpermanent,” he said. Food carts, restaurants and kiosks similar to those in the South St. Seaport are under consideration. There are also plans for glass-enclosed pavilions under the F.D.R. Drive for retail and community spaces.

“We are probably about halfway through our study right now,” Poole said. Several members had questions about developing the park, especially in the area of the Seaport’s Pier 17. Poole said his firm was still in discussions with General Growth, which owns the Seaport Mall and the rights to develop the former Fulton Fish Market spaces. He told board members he was not permitted to discuss the state of negotiations regarding General Growth’s plans.

Food concessions and meeting spaces would offer the best revenue return on usage, Poole suggested. He used the example of the Union Square holiday market, which he said can generate $400,000 in income for the city in 30 days of operation.

The area south of the Brooklyn Bridge would provide better business conditions, Poole noted, with the area north of the bridge, stretching into Community Board 3, becoming “More of a promenade, very passive.” This northern area might have only a few food carts.

The optimum goal, Poole said, would be for 100 percent of the park’s funding to come from the commercial uses, so that no government funding would be needed.

Poole said work on the waterfront would be underway in 18 months. If done in stages, portions of the esplanade and park could be completed in three years.

Lee Gruzen, co-chairperson of a new group Seaport Speaks, proposed that, like other New York attractions, the park be geared toward locals.

“Build it for residents,” she said, “and the tourists will come.”

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