Community Boards

Marc Jacobs Plays the Field,

But Show Won’t Go On in Chelsea Manhattan community Boards On July 30, fashion-house and design-world heavy-hitter Marc Jacobs found itself facing off against a formidable opponent: the West Side’s little-league Downtown United Soccer Club. The arena was Community Board 4’s meeting at the Hudson Guild Fulton Center; the prize at stake was a piece of Chelsea Park for a week in September; and the outcome was that the soccer tots kicked some serious fashionista butt.

With the help of KCD, a fashion publicist and producer of the CFDA Awards (fashion’s version of the Oscars), Marc Jacobs has been planning a show for the evening of Monday, Sept. 15. The organizers had decided that an outdoor space would provide the right feel, and on July 24, the designer filed an application with the city’s Parks Department to use part of Chelsea Park, located between 9th and 10th avenues and 27th and 28th streets. The park would house two large tents, one for the fashion show itself and one for the cocktail party afterward, and would use about half the park’s ball field between Sept. 10 and 17 for the 20-minute show and the week-long setting-up and breaking-down.

Staging a show at Chelsea Park would come at a cost: it would require closing much of the facility, which is Chelsea’s largest city park, to the public for an entire week, displacing, among thousands of users, about 300 members (ages 5 to 17) of the co-ed Downtown United Soccer Club, which traditionally holds its matches throughout the day on Saturdays and Sundays for 10 weeks in the fall.

“They’re taking away 10 percent of our play time,” Downtown United chairman Bob Russo told the board at the meeting. “We do not want our space taken away. Our kids will be hurt. I would ask you strongly to please not support this.”

Marc Jacobs-whose celebrity fans include Christy Turlington, Sofia Coppola and Winona Ryder (who famously sported Marc Jacobs designs throughout her shoplifting trial last fall and whose booty included a $760 Marc Jacobs jumper)-would pay a $65,000 location fee to the Parks Department for the privilege of using Chelsea Park as the venue for its event. Additionally, the designer-which regularly raises funds for such charities as Cancer Care, the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation and the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center (in Greenwich Village) through its shows and stores-would donate an additional discretionary amount to the charities of its choice.

At the July 30 meeting, the Parks Department pledged that, should Chelsea Park be approved as the venue, the city would explore ways to direct the location fee to parks in Board 4’s district and would also help accommodate the little-leaguers elsewhere during the weekend of lost playtime. Keith Baptista, Marc Jacobs’ KCD representative, indicated a willingness to work with the community to channel the designer’s charitable donations locally. Additionally, Mr. Baptista-whose son, ironically, used to play in the Downtown United Soccer Club-assured the board that KCD would take every measure to ensure that the community suffered the least possible inconvenience from the loading and unloading of equipment throughout the week, and from the 1,000-plus V.I.P. guests who would descend on the neighborhood in September.

Despite all these concessions, the board ultimately decided that maintaining public access to its limited park space was the priority. “Our parks are parks ,” Adam Honigman told his fellow board members. “They’re for our kids; they’re not for fashion guys who can rent hotels.” After some debate, the board voted 21 to 6 to oppose the Marc Jacobs application.

“We’re probably looking at improvements for [Chelsea Park] that could have been made, that won’t be made-at least not this year,” said John Doswell, the co-chairman of Board 4’s waterfront and parks committee, speaking with The Observer. But, he added, “it’s good to stand on principle every once in a while.”

The Parks Department told The Observer that its decision on the permit would be based on community feedback. But on Aug. 4, Marc Jacobs withdrew its application, leaving the Chelsea Park playing field wide open for tomorrow’s Mia Hamms and David Beckhams. The Marc Jacobs press office did not return calls by press time.

-Karina Lahni

West St. Restoration:

To Tunnel or Not?

While most politicians’ and pundits’ attention is focused on the major features of Daniel Libeskind’s grand plan for reconstructing the World Trade Center site, a fringe element of the rebuilding project is raising hackles in the downtown community.

The issue is how to restore West Street, also known as New York State Highway Route 9A, which was damaged on Sept. 11. West Street runs, appropriately, along the west side of Manhattan from 59th Street nearly to the tip of lower Manhattan, separating the river from the skyscrapers, the bike path from the sidewalk, and Battery Park City from Ground Zero.

The damage has reduced West Street from eight to six lanes near the World Trade Center site, increasing noise and congestion. In June, the New York State Department of Transportation unveiled two proposals for reconstructing the highway, as well as for enlarging surrounding walkways in order to better accommodate future memorial visitors. A wide tree-lined promenade will abut the east side of the street, bordering shops, cafés and galleries, all the way down to Battery Park.

One of the D.O.T.’s plans envisions the new section of West Street as an eight-lane at-grade highway. The other plan includes a short tunnel bypass that would depress half the traffic lanes near the W.T.C. site from Liberty to Vesey streets. According to the transportation department, the four-lane tunnel would decrease noise and traffic near the memorial, widen the above-ground median and include more greenery.

Although Governor George Pataki has said that he favors the tunnel proposal, downtown residents are grumbling about the plan, which would cost around $860 million and take twice as long to realize as the plan that keeps all lanes above ground. Many of the naysayers turned up at Community Board 1’s July 29 public meeting to voice their opposition.

“We’re trying to make West Street a desirable, attractive urban boulevard. Tunnel ramps do not fit with that,” said William Love Jr., a resident of Battery Park City, who also expressed concern that “there are a lot of unanswered questions about the impact of a tunnel on the neighborhood.”

Residents expressed skepticism about the claim that a tunnel would decrease congestion or make the highway any more friendly to pedestrians. The bottom line for most board members, however, was the cost. Given that the alternative at-grade plan would cost around $140 million, the tunnel seems to many like an unjustified extravagance that would cause more of a headache in the short term without promising any definite payoff in the future.

“Our position is, it’s too much money,” said Richard Kennedy, chairman of the board’s World Trade Center redevelopment committee.

The board recently conducted a random telephone survey that found the tunnel bypass to be unpopular with downtown residents. Local politicians like City Council member Alan Gerson and State Assembly member Deborah Glick also oppose the bypass.

At the meeting, board member Bernard D’Orazio was one of the few to side with the Governor.

“The opportunity to connect the Hudson River waterfront, Battery Park City and the financial district is one of the great things to come out of this mess,” he said. “The bypass would make that more of a reality.”

The board’s poll showed that downtown residents rank east-west connectivity as the most important goal of W.T.C.-related transportation projects, but those at the meeting pointed out that the tunnel would not help achieve this goal.

Although the board didn’t vote down the tunnel bypass per se, members recommended nearly 2 to 1 that the transportation department thoroughly explore alternative plans before making a decision.

“We are conducting a thorough review of the alternatives and assessing their impacts as part of the environmental review. We will keep the community board and the public informed about the project as it develops, and will also consider all comments presented to us,” said Lisa Kuhner, a spokeswoman for the state D.O.T.

Ms. Kuhner told The Observer that the transportation department would choose a plan next year, with construction likely to begin in 2005.

-Megan Costello

Community Boards