If the city does not get behind a proposal to build a public park on the Murray Hill segment of the East River esplanade now when a trio of high-profile construction projects are in various stages of development, the five-year-old plan to build a green space in the area may never be realized.
With the public review process for Sheldon Solow’s 6.5 million-square-foot mixed-use development from 36th to 41st streets on First Avenue wrapping up—the plans are in the last stage of the approval process with City Council—and a hearing about the neighborhood’s rezoning approaching on Monday, a host of community groups and local politicos politely reminded city and state officials just how much they want a park.
Councilman David Garodnick, Manhattan borough President Scott Stringer, and nearly a dozen others assembled outside the potential site of the park: a vacant, city-owned concrete lot that is currently being leased by Con Edison.
An unsightly chain-linked fence bars the public from the lot, so officials unrolled a vinyl back-drop with renderings of the four-acre park instead. For good humor, they even brought some rubber palm trees along, which seemed a little like a slap in the face given the cold, made all the worse by the blustery winds on the East River.
A lot of things need to happen to turn the “concept of the park into a reality," said the vice president of the Municipal Arts Society, Frank Sanchez, but most importantly the city has to coordinate the UN expansion, the FDR drive construction, and Mr. Solow’s tower.
The design that was conceived by six landscape architects during a charette last spring includes a bridge running over the FDR Drive from Mr. Solow’s building to the East River. Not only would the city have to move the FDR 30 feet west, but Mr. Solow would need an easement to modify his building plans to accommodate the park.
According to a few of the community group representatives at the press conference, Mr. Solow has said he is open to the idea of the park. Now that the public review process is coming to a close, the ball is in the city’s court.
“The city has to push to get it done,” said Charles Buchwald, a member of Community Board 6 and the East Midtown Coalition for Sensible Development. “Without the easement we wouldn’t be able to build the bridge from Solow’s property over the FDR. He said he’d be open to it, but that no one from the city has asked him to do anything about it so the state and city need to make this a priority.”
The city has funds to renovate the FDR Drive, but lowering the “world’s largest exit ramp,” Mr. Garodnick said, will require revised funding commitments from all stakeholders. If built, the park is expected to bring 10,000 new residents to the neighborhood.
“I don’t believe the city is opposed to the park, but Mr. Solow is willing to grant the easement, so they just have to ask him and this is the moment to do that,” Mr. Sanchez said.
Since Mr. Garodnick’s office is currently reviewing Mr. Solow’s plans, it seems like the ball might be in his court now.