Most New Yorkers know Battery Park as the shabby launching point for ferries to the Statue of Liberty and Staten Island, or confuse it with the well-manicured Battery Park City waterfront. But by the spring of 2008, a stylish carousel and a more navigable subway station could complete a years-long overhaul of Battery Park, and plans are taking shape to initiate service from the Battery to Coney Island and other beach destinations.
A nonprofit organization, the Battery Conservancy, has been working to transform some of Manhattan's oldest real estate — and the site where Peter Minuit bought the rights to the island — into a destination for young families. This year the group hopes to add an aquatic-themed carousel, "Sea Glass," to gardens that Dutch landscaper Piet Oudolf installed in 2004.
In place of the traditional horses, the carousel would employ 33 translucent sea creatures, with fiber-optic lights shooting through each form. A film with original music would run on the inner core, showing dark-blue images of protozoan sea life. Architect Claire Weisz, whose firm Weisz + Yoes spearheaded the carousel's design, says recent improvements to the area have been obscured by the MTA's construction project linking the N/R and 1 subway lines with the Staten Island Ferry terminal.
"Battery Park is still a place you go to be accosted by vendors," Ms. Weisz said.
The discovery of archeologically significant structures under the Staten Island Ferry terminal helped slowed things down last year. Battery Park boosters hope the MTA, under the new leadership of the Spitzer administration, may dedicate fresh energy to finishing the project. If that happens, Ms. Weisz said, momentum could flow to help fund the $6.8 million the carousel needs for construction and annual upkeep.
City Councilmember Alan Gerson, whose district includes Battery Park, says he hopes to bring critical funding to the carousel, in part by trying to budget for a ferry link to the Coney Island aquarium and other beach spots. "I would like to get the job done during the next fiscal year," he says, "especially now that Coney Island is being rebuilt."
Improvements to Battery Park are well-timed. Families are increasingly populating the Wall Street area in new luxury condominiums, in a number of highprofile office building conversions and in hundreds of new residential units near the South Street Seaport. Increasing retail amenities, like the Amish Market, a coffee bar on Beekman Street, and a planned Whole Foods and Barnes & Noble, along with a charter school, are drawing more families. A parents' group from the building at 55 Liberty, on Liberty and William Streets, is advising the Battery Conservancy.
"There's going to be this unbelievable addition of residential population in Lower Manhattan, almost all with high income," Ms. Weisz, the architect, said. "In theory, the need for well-designed open space would be a given."
Ms. Weisz says the redesigned Battery orients toward the open harbor on its south and east. Visitors can climb steps on the new Whitehall Ferry, which debuted in 2005, outside for an aerial view across the harbor. This positioning could help the Battery mesh with the Governors Island overhaul and other projects that are redefining the waterfront. The Conservancy's master plan includes a lawn for concerts, a refurbished bikeway connecting to South Street, and year-round programs inside Castle Clinton. Price says the Parks Department will request bids for the bikeway by April, with construction to start next year.
Several uncertainties remain for Battery Park. The future of Pier A, a former federally-owned site jutting into the harbor at the park's northern entrance, remains stuck in litigation. A source says that a settlement with a longtime tenant should take shape this year.
And obtaining private funding for the improvements is a challenge. The director of the Battery Conservancy, Warrie Price, said the cacophony of public works projects around downtown Manhattan, from Governors Island to the World Trade Center Memorial to the High Line, has challenged the Battery Conservancy's power to draw attention for a major fundraising drive. In particular, uncertainty about the city's future plans for Governors Island is keeping the Battery Conservancy off many donors' radar, Weisz said.
If the city's vision for Governors Island takes shape, then the visibility of Battery Park should rise.
"If Governors Island is going to be a big deal," said Ms. Weisz, "its front yard would be Battery Park."
Correction from January 17, 2007:
Several sources who asked not to be identified because they support the Battery Conservancy said fund-raising for the conservancy is difficult because of the uncertainty surrounding the future of Governors Island. The idea was misattributed in an article on page 1 of the January 11 Sun.