Volume 74, Number 13 | July 28 - August 03 , 2004

West Side braces for protesters

By Albert Amateau

When the Republican National Convention comes to town on Aug. 29, West Side residents and merchants from Tribeca, the Village and Chelsea will feel the impact. And the Penn South Co-op in Chelsea, 15 buildings with about 5,500 residents, will be right in the middle of the action, both pro and con.

Located between Eighth and Ninth Aves. from 23rd to 29th Sts., Penn South is a scant two blocks south of Eighth Ave. at 31st St. where protestors will be permitted to gather at the southeast corner of Madison Sq. Garden, the convention site.

“Because the activities around the convention are expected to impact our area so significantly, co-operators should expect some difficulty in negotiating their way around the streets,” said a memo distributed two weeks ago to most of the 2,820 apartments in the complex that was built more than 40 years ago with labor union sponsorship. “If at all possible, stay inside during the times the convention is in session,” added the memo, which will be updated once or twice in the next 30 days.

However, considering Penn South’s progressive political heritage, a good many cooperators, more than half of whom are older than 65, are likely to be out on the street with the protestors. Nevertheless, street closings during the convention will mean that residents are advised to have valid identification.

“We’ll have a full complement of security during the convention,” said Brendan Keany, Penn South general manager. “There’s a moratorium on vacations for all personnel and it means we’ll have an added expense of $10,000 in overtime,” he added.

“I’d like to send the bill to George Bush or Mike Bloomberg,” quipped Robert Silverstein, president of the co-op board of directors.

“It’ll be a great opportunity for Republicans to see a low-and-moderate-income housing complex like this in such good shape. It’ll show them what people are able to accomplish together,” Silverstein said.

Penn South management has been preparing for the convention with representatives of the U.S. Secret Service and N.Y.P.D., said Keany. The Secret Service plans to post agents on the roofs of a few co-op buildings, Keany said. “We’re also planning to enclose our open lawn areas on Eighth Ave. between 24th and 28th Sts. in orange plastic fencing a week before the convention,” Keany added.

Penn South residents are being advised to enter their buildings from the Ninth Ave. rather than the Eighth Ave. side. Residents who park their cars on 26th St. will be directed to exit on Ninth Ave. rather than Eighth Ave.

The convention will coincide with the opening of the new semester at Fashion Institute of Technology, on W. 27th St. between Seventh and Eighth Aves. The school will operate normally during the convention and administrators are discussing with police the possibility of closing W. 27th St. to auto traffic, according to Loretta Keane, vice president for communications and external affairs.

United for Peace and Justice, the organization planning to bring an estimated 250,000 demonstrators to protest the Republican convention, reluctantly accepted the city’s offer last week to rally on the West Side Highway at Chambers St.

“We were forced to eat the highway,” said Bill Dobbs, an organizer of the protest “The city didn’t give us any choice and we still have issues to settle.” The city denied the group’s original request for Central Park and turned down subsequent applications, including Third Ave. at 43rd St. and Times Sq.

The protest march will begin at noon Sun. Aug. 29, the day before the convention, on Seventh Ave. at 23rd St. with a marshalling area between 14th and 23rd Sts. The march will proceed up Seventh Ave. past Madison Sq. Garden to 34th St., then west to the West Side Highway and down the highway to just north of Chambers St., where the stage will face north.

At least a few residents in Battery Park City and Tribeca have expressed concerns about the noise from the demonstration. “It will be quite disturbing to people in Tribeca,” said Diane Lapson, president of the Independence Plaza North Tenants Association. “I know people have the right to protest and I’m happy we have freedom of speech, but I think Central Park would have been preferable. I’m afraid there might be violence between protestors and police. They should be able to protest in a safe place,” Lapson said.

Other West Side residents were also ready to accept the disruption in their stride. Art Strickler, district manager of Community Board 2, who lives a block and a half from the West Side Highway, said, “I certainly support the right of peaceful protest. Yes, it will have an impact up to 42nd St., so we’ll live with it for one day.”

Elaine Goldman, of the Christopher St. Block and Merchants Association, however, said the city made a mistake to deny the protestors a permit for Central Park. “Stringing them out along the highway is ridiculous. They’ve done this to discourage public dissent,” she said.

City Councilmember Christine Quinn, who lives in the London Terrace complex west of Ninth Ave., said she was glad the city at least granted a protest permit in Manhattan with a route that passes in front of Madison Sq. Garden. “Some of the original suggestions like Flushing Meadows were truly absurd. A more appropriate place would have been the Great Lawn,” she said. “I’ll see you at the rally,” she added.

Andy Humm, also a London Terrace resident and a writer with Gay City News, a sister publication of The Villager, said he wasn’t concerned about the impact of the rally on the West Side but he would have preferred it in Central Park. “I’d volunteer to re-seed the park if necessary,” he said.

Doris Corrigan, a Chelsea resident and State Democratic Committee member, also said Central Park would have been better. “They’ll have to do something about the cars that use the West Side Highway, even on a Sunday. It’s going to be a mess,” Corrigan said.

The top priority for U.P.J. is for police not to use metal barricades to set up pens to confine protestors. “We want to make sure there is easy and safe access in and out of the rally site, including the use of Hudson River Park,” Dobbs said.

“There’s been no decision regarding the protesters and no plans so far,” said Chris Martin, spokesperson for Hudson River Park Trust, which operates the park. In October of 2003, Red Bull paid the Trust $125,000 for Flugtag, an all-day event that brought several thousand people into Hudson River Park. The Flugtag crowd trampled flowerbeds in the Village segment of the park.

“Because we’re forced to rally on the highway under the direct sun, we want the city to help provide drinking water — we’re not asking for bottled water, but maybe for water trucks,” Dobbs said. U.P.J. also wants the city to help cover the cost of an adequate sound system for a crowd that will stretch for many blocks along the highway from Chambers St.; Dobbs said the rally could potentially extend from Chambers St. as far north as 34th St. A sound system for the highway could cost $150,000 more than a system adequate for the Great Lawn or the North Meadow in Central Park, Dobbs said.

Because the city plans to provide Republican National Convention delegates with free MetroCards, U.P.J. wants free bus and subway access and shuttle service to and from the Aug. 29 West Side Highway rally. However, Ed Skyler, spokesperson for Mayor Bloomberg, told the New York Times that corporate sponsors are funding the MetroCards for convention delegates.

Street closures, beginning Sun Aug. 29 are:

W. 31st to W. 33rd Sts. from Sixth to Ninth Aves. will be closed to vehicles. Between Seventh and Ninth Aves., pedestrians will need a business-related purpose to enter.

W. 32nd between Sixth and Seventh Aves. will be closed to vehicles and become a pedestrian mall, providing access to Penn Station through the Seventh Ave. entrance. People will also be able to enter Penn Station through the entrance at 34th St. at Seventh Ave. but not at Eighth Ave.

Seventh Ave. will be closed from 42nd to 29th Sts. during the 13 hours that the convention is in session. At other times, at least one lane will be open in the M.S.G. area and all lanes will be open elsewhere.

Eighth Ave. will be closed during convention hours from 23rd to 34th Sts. Because 31st St. at Eighth Ave will be a designated protest area, additional lane or avenue closures are likely south of that point at other times during the week.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority will reroute buses on both Seventh and Eighth Aves.

Street closures for the Aug. 29 United for Peace and Justice march and rally have not yet been set.
The convention has only one session during the day, on Monday, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Evening sessions Monday through Thursday will be from 8-11 p.m.

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