There was a time when Frank Sinatra could bring the traffic in Times Square to a standstill: the blinding marquee on the old Paramount dazzling approaching drivers, the hysterical bobbysoxers spilling onto Seventh Avenue and into the path of Broadway-bound cars. Happy days, members of Board 5 fear, might be here again.
Into the heart of the area now overrun with gawking pedestrians and crawling traffic will soon be added a statue of Ol’ Blue Eyes. And there’s not much the neighbors can do to block it.
Don’t think Board 5 hasn’t tried.
At their April 12 meeting, members of Board 5 voted unanimously to oppose the placement of a Frank Sinatra statue, or any statue, on the bow tie at Broadway and 43rd Streets. No offense to the singer, of course.
“We have nothing against Frank Sinatra,” Board 5’s arts, culture, tourism and Times Square committee chairman David Diamond said. “Many of us actually like him.”
But one thing community board members like even more is process. And the act of putting up the statue in Times Square the kind of decision for which community boards exist didn’t follow one, they believe.
Instead, the decision to place a statue on the slender strip of pavement was decided by people like Danny from Atlanta, Mary from Silver Springs and Steffen from Germany not to mention members of the Sinatra family and New York’s ultimate arbiter, Mayor Giuliani.
According to Mr. Diamond, plans for the statue, pushed by the Sinatra family with the support of Mr. Giuliani, have already been approved by the city’s Department of Transportation. All that’s left is for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (which is conducting a study to see if the roof of the subway tunnel below the strip can carry the weight of the statue) and the city Art Commission to approve it.
“We have not been included in any official correspondence about it,” Mr. Diamond told The Observer. “That is one of our concerns that a major piece could be put up in Times Square without public review is worrisome to us.”
But more troubling is that the city is adding a statue of anything or anyone at all on the traffic islands where Broadway crosses Seventh Avenue.
“That area of Times Square has become one of the most congested in the city,” Mr. Diamond told The Observer. “With a statue where people might come and stand around and want to have their picture taken on a narrow island, they’ll spill out onto the street and impede traffic. Another impediment would only make the situation worse.”
But nobody in Atlanta or Silver Springs or wherever else the letters and e-mails in support of the statue come from is thinking about that. On the Sinatrafamily.com Web site, only three of the 21 letters about the statue originate from New York.
“[Sinatra] comes to all our minds at the end of the [Yankee] games when they play ‘New York, New York’ and in many other recorded songs like ‘Autumn in New York,'” writes John from Philadelphia. “I’m due for a visit to my friends in the Chelsea section of Manhattan. I’ll drive up through Jersey City and Hoboken, and arrive in a wonderland that Mr. Sinatra did much to make me appreciate.”
The resolution by Board 5 is unlikely to deter the Sinatras or Mayor Giuliani, for that matter.
“I suppose those who oppose this tribute might fight us all the way,” Nancy Sinatra, Frank’s daughter, wrote on the Web site in March, “but I wish they would change their minds and see how wonderful it will be for New York.”
Board Faces Quandary: Don’t Ask for Something …
For nearly 20 years, Board 6 has been fighting to turn a stretch of industrial wasteland strewn with chunks of concrete blocks into a public park.
There have been many obstacles to creating Stuyvesant Cove Park along the East River between 18th and 23rd streets. Ten years ago, the board fended off a gigantic luxury residential development that would have blocked the community’s waterfront access at Stuyvesant Cove. The board raised federal funds to help fill budget gaps in the park’s $7 million estimated construction cost. The board wrote countless resolutions and proposals to spur the painfully slow wheels of city and state government.
Finally this month, the Economic Development Corporation, the city agency managing the site, has initiated the Uniform Land Use Review Process (ULURP) needed to change the zoning to allow creation of a park. The ULURP is also necessary to permit construction of an environmental center on part of the site, just south of 23rd Street. It would seem a no-brainer for Board 6 to support this plan. But things aren’t so clear-cut.
The plan still has some kinks in it, board members say, which they would prefer to work out before they give the ULURP their blessing. And the biggest kink is the environmental center, the economic component of the park, which the city hopes will help fund its maintenance.
In March, the board voted unanimously to send a list of questions to the E.D.C. regarding plans for Stuyvesant Cove Park, especially about the specifics of the environmental center. It also asked for a delay of the ULURP while those questions are addressed. The board got answers from the E.D.C., but no delay: It must respond to the ULURP by the middle of June.
Then, at the board’s April 11 meeting, a couple of area teachers spoke in favor of the environmental center.
“I see this as an opportunity for the community to interact with high schools,” Maureen Pricci, a science teacher at P.S. 40, told the board. “I see a lot of advantages in having an environmental center in Stuyvesant Cove Park.”
And Board 6 members found themselves in the awkward position of explaining why they are suddenly the ones dragging their feet, now that their labor of love looks set to finally leap off the drawing board onto the shoreline.
Some members feel that they are giving up too much open space for the environmental center about one-sixth of the three-acre park. There are other alternatives, they say, such as putting the center on a barge docked at a newly built pier.
Board members also don’t have confidence in the fund-raising abilities of Community Environmental Center, the nonprofit organization the E.D.C. has designated to build and operate the two-story facility. They wonder why Community Environmental Center should receive a 40-year lease too long for their comfort.
“We all have the feeling that if this plan goes through, we’ll wind up developing a site that was supposed to be a park,” board member Michael Hirsch told Ms. Pricci outside the meeting room, after she had addressed the board. He emphasized negotiating with the city to make sure the community gets what it really wants: a small environmental center focused on river and marine ecology that takes up as little park space as possible.
But other board members have had enough negotiating. They want to make sure they get the park they’ve fought so hard for, and they don’t think the details of the center should hold up the process.
By June, they will have to come to a decision. One likely option would be to approve the rezoning to allow the park, as well as the environmental center with some conditions. Meanwhile, the board’s chair distributed to each member a thick binder with the history of Stuyvesant Cove Park (the idea for which was conceived 160 years ago) as a reminder of just how much is riding on their June vote.
April 18: Board 6, New York University Medical Center, 550 First Avenue, between 32nd and 33rd streets, Classroom A, 7 p.m., 679-0907; Board 8, Good Shepherd Church, Main Street, Roosevelt Island, 7 p.m., 758-4340.
April 19: Board 2, Saint Vincent’s Hospital, 170 West 12th Street, between Sixth and Seventh avenues, Cronin Auditorium, 10th floor, 7 p.m., 979-2272; Board 9, Community Board Office, 555 West 125th Street, between Broadway and Old Broadway, 6:30 p.m., 864-6200.
April 24: Board 3, P.S. 20, 166 Essex Street, between East Houston and Stanton streets, 6:30 p.m., 533-5300; Board 12, Columbia University, Alumni Auditorium, 650 West 168th Street, between Broadway and Fort Washington Avenue, 7 p.m., 568-8500.