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Much-Needed Recharging Battery Park, the largest open public space in downtown Manhattan and one of the city’s most historic areas, is undergoing a renaissance of sorts. The park’s 200-year-old Castle Clinton, built before the War of 1812, is scheduled for a long-overdue face-lift that will restore it to the grand outdoor performance space it was in the early 19th century. The restoration project also includes invigorating the bosque (the large wooded area traversed by paths east of the castle) and, starting this spring, commemorating the victims of the World Trade Center attack with a new constellation of gardens along the harbor.

“It’s a great design,” said Anthony Notaro, chair of Community Board 1’s Battery Park City committee, who described the bosque plan to the full board at its public meeting on April 15. The board wholeheartedly endorsed the plan, conceived under the auspices of the Battery Conservancy, a nonprofit corporation that works with city, state and national parks agencies to develop the 23-acre site, which is jointly maintained by the city’s Department of Parks and Recreation and the National Park Service.

Long in a state of benign neglect, Battery Park began its ongoing transformation with the conservancy’s creation in 1994. Previously a tangled web of decaying paths and scrubby wildlife, where illegal vendors hawked their wares to nervous tourists scurrying through the park on the way to Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty, over the last decade the Battery has become a vibrant, well-kept green space and a destination in its own right.

The esteemed Dutch horticulturist Piet Oudolf, a recent recipient of the Best Garden Award at the Chelsea Flower Show, will design both the tribute gardens and the bosque gardens, as well as new plantings beside the bikeway that will run along the park’s interior perimeter. Mr. Oudolf’s so-called New Wave style emphasizes sustainability and renewal to produce a garden that engages throughout the year. The Battery Park gardens, which will comprise native plants and have a more wild than manicured look, will be Mr. Oudolf’s first public project in the United States.

“He was chosen because he is a real artist of nature,” Warrie Price, president of the Battery Conservancy, told The Observer .

In addition to two food kiosks, new seating and extensive lighting to encourage nighttime visitation, the 30,000-square-foot bosque will feature an interactive fountain and a carousel. The fountain will be flush with the ground, so that children-and carefree adults-can run through its waters. The carousel will depart from the usual equestrian theme; instead of sitting on horses, riders will cling to the backs of such maritime fauna as turtles, sturgeons and seahorses. The marine motif suits the waterfront park and also recalls the New York Aquarium, which was housed next-door in Castle Clinton Garden from 1896 to 1941.

Pending only the approval of the city’s Art Commission, the Battery Conservancy will soon begin raising the estimated $8 million required for the entire bosque project, which it hopes to complete by the summer of 2004. The conservancy will solicit contributions from private foundations and philanthropists, as well as from the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation. Strapped as it is for cash, the city is not expected to provide any funding.

The renovation of the Castle Clinton National Monument, the linchpin of Battery Park’s redevelopment, will cost an estimated $56 million; over $8 million in public funding has been secured so far. The rest of the money, which the Conservancy hopes to raise by next year, will likely come from private donors and foundations. The architectural teams of Thomas Pfifer & Partners and Beyer Blinder Bell are already sketching designs for the new facility, which will take an estimated two years to construct. The Castle Clinton renovation plan transforms the fort from a small ticketing station for the Statue of Liberty–Ellis Island ferry to a full-blown harbor transportation hub. A revamped interpretive display will illuminate the building’s history, explaining its genesis as a defensive fort against the British, its next incarnation as the largest entertainment center in the new republic, and its illustrious role as New York’s first official immigration center, which welcomed over eight million new arrivals before Ellis Island opened and the center became the New York Aquarium. An open-air performing-arts venue will grace the top of the revamped structure, recalling the grand open theater of the 1820’s and 30’s.

On May 8, the conservancy will break ground on the tribute waterfront gardens, officially inaugurating what Ms. Price calls the Battery’s “horticultural era.” Given the nearby redevelopment of the World Trade Center site, she added, “There’s more responsibility for our work, because all the world comes here.”

At the same time, with its new promenades and plantings, enhanced security, and coming bike paths and performance space, the park is growing more attractive to the people who live and work in lower Manhattan, board member Judy Duffy told The Observer . Apart from being a tourist destination, she said, the Battery is also becoming an integral part of the downtown community: “It’s becoming more and more of a neighborhood park.”

-Megan Costello

April 23: Board 2, St. Vincent’s Hospital, 170 West 12th Street, 6:30 p.m., 212-979-2272.

April 24: Board 8, P.S./I.S. 217, 645 Main Street, Roosevelt Island, auditorium, 7 p.m., 212-758-4340.

April 29: Board 3, P.S. 20, 166 Essex Street, 6:30 p.m., 212-533-5300.

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