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Volume 77, Number 18 | October 3 - 9, 2007

Downtown Express photo by Elizabeth Proitsis

Five architectural teams charged with coming up with new ideas for Hudson Square proposed park space on the roof of the St. John’s Center, above. Below Zakrzewski + Hyde Architects/Starr Whitehouse did a sloped schematic linking St. John’s park to a smaller sanitation garage on the UPS parking lot and down to street level. Oppossite page top, the team produced a rendering of the open space above the garage and UPS building.

Architects brainstorm ways to add park space

By Patrick Hedlund

The future of Manhattan’s West Side lies in an area some still can’t find on a map, and it contains some of the most developable land on the island, though many might have trouble recognizing the neighborhood’s name.

The community that was once only known to real estate agents and city developers as Hudson Square – the former industrial haven sandwiched between the West Village, Soho and Tribeca – isn’t even Hudson Square to some who have resided there for decades.

So to derail a plan to add more garbage trucks to the neighborhood, a group of concerned local tenants and developers tasked some of the city’s top architectural firms to envision a future for the congealing community as a way to draw attention to what they hope planners will now finally acknowledge as a legitimate neighborhood.

The undertaking – or charrette, as project contributors have dubbed it – initially began under the auspices of a couple of key players in the neighborhood earlier this year with the goal of eliciting original architectural visions for area development and park space.

The charrette’s proponents asked only that the architects take for granted two points: that the city will eventually rezone the northern part of the neighborhood following its 2003 rezoning farther south, and that a current Sanitation Department proposal to construct a facility in the area be disregarded in their designs.

The results, released exclusively to The Villager and Downtown Express by project leaders, feature a modern-day neighborhood of mixed-use properties that include innovative park designs, streamlined connectivity to the waterfront, and vibrant retail and residential corridors ripe for new development.

The charrette spawned both as a reaction to the city’s Sanitation proposal and a desire to spur expansive rezoning by the Department of City Planning, according to project underwriter Peter Moore.

“It seemed like an opportunity to really think about how we could introduce a more productive and positive dialogue about rezoning and development in general in the Downtown neighborhoods,” said Moore, who’s been developing properties in Hudson Square for 15 years. “To date [the dialogue with the city has] been contentious and fairly unsatisfying, so I feel that in a very vibrant real estate market, there’s got to be a coming together of the private and public in a more intelligent way.”

Moore said he provided funding in excess of $100,000 for the project, which enlisted the help of five top firms based out of New York (Arquitectonica GEO, FLAnk, LTL Architects, SPaN, and Zakrzewski + Hyde Architects, in association with Starr Whitehouse Landscape Architects and Planners).

Their designs range from the practical and environmentally conscious to the futuristic and even fantastical, but all act to spark debate over the possibilities that lie ahead for Hudson Square.

Michael Kramer, whom St. John’s Center owner Eugene Grant commissioned to head up the charrette, called this a “rare moment in time” when developers and community members have met in the middle to effect positive change and better their neighborhood.

“This is a unique exercise unto itself, and of course we are trying to encourage our neighbors from the surrounding communities to enjoy Hudson Square as well,” said Kramer, referring to the surrounding neighborhoods.

Carl Weisbrod, president of Trinity Real Estate, the neighborhood’s largest property owner, has not yet seen the renderings but said danger exists if the ideas to add park space are not practical.

“What is not desirable is to create, on paper, a perfect world but find that it’s just not feasible to do – so nothing happens,” he said in a recent interview.

Kramer, however, explained that “the purpose of the charrette is to stimulate conversation.”

That conversation has begun get louder in Hudson Square, which has been characterized even by locals as “desolate,” a “no-man’s land” and out in “the country.” Concerned residents have hired lawyers to fight the city’s sanitation proposal, gathered for protests against construction perceived to be out of character with Hudson Square, and pledged “eternal vigilance,” according to David Reck, in resolving issues in the neighborhood.

“It’s not so much whether or not you support or don’t support development — development is, it’s happening,” said Reck, president of the Friends of Hudson Square and Community Board 2’s Zoning Committee chair. “It’s far better for the neighborhood to get involved in it and try to participate in it.”

One of the charrette’s more interesting outgrowths has been the architects’ incorporation of the waterfront into their respective designs, which tout access and connectivity to Hudson River Park. Some renderings even feature green bridges linking the neighborhood to the pier, which would encourage it as an accessible destination for the general public. The elevated park space would connect St. John’s, a smaller sanitation garage and the UPS building to Hudson Park’s Pier 40, according to some designs.

“I see the waterfront as being the magnet,” Kramer noted. “It’s going to be busy during the day because of the office workers, and at night it’s going to be busy because of all the new residential population… This will be one of the closest areas [in the city] to the park that you can live.”

And in an area with so much available – and desirable – real estate, the waterfront will be a natural draw for developers looking to capitalize on the neighborhood’s prime location.

A key component to that planning involves the immense St. John’s Center and UPS building adjacent to Pier 40, which figure prominently into some of the architects’ designs due to their proximity to the waterfront.

A statement from Eugene M. Grant and Co., owner of the St. John’s Center, said that “our initial reaction is a positive one,” although the company has reserved comments related to future development at the site until a later date.

“We are much encouraged by the opportunities that they have pointed out to create green space and safe linkages to the Hudson River Park, which we know would be of great interest to the tenants in our building,” the statement read.

Charrette collaborator Richard Barrett of the Canal West Coalition said hopefully the project will be enough to convince City Planning to take a closer look at all of Hudson Square.

“They don’t seem to plan comprehensively, even though there’s a state mandate for zoning and rezoning to be part of a comprehensive plan, and a well-considered plan,” he said.

“We have a common stake in all of this, and it’s time to really establish ourselves as a real neighborhood with real issues,” Reck said. “In the end, that’s what keeps all of us going.”

And what of longtime residents like Joanne Hendricks who maintain they live in the South Village, and not Hudson Square?

“The neighborhood is changing, it’s a dynamic neighborhood, and I can live with the change,” said the 34-year Greenwich St. resident. “It’s nice to see people walking on the streets.”

The complete Hudson Square charrette will go on public display from Sat., Oct. 27 through Sun., Nov. 25 at 627 Greenwich St., at the corner of Morton St., on the 10th floor. It will be open on weekdays from noon to 6 p.m., excluding Mondays, and on weekends from noon to 4 p.m. The display will be closed for Thanksgiving.

Community board calendar Oct. 3-11

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