Pols nudge Solow on East River plan

By Alec Appelbaum | February 21, 2008 04:10PM

On Monday, the City Council will consider how high Sheldon Solow can build seven towers on a nine-acre mixed-use site just south of the United Nations.
But today, the talk was about whether Solow will pay for an ambitious scheme to re-connect the area to the East River by re-routing FDR Drive. Government officials gathered reporters to promote a waterfront park there as part of Solow’s plan — a costly idea the developer supports but has not committed to fund.

Solow spent decades wresting the land between 35th Street and 38th Street from Con Edison and is now trying to build a new 6.5 million square foot neighborhood with up to 10,000 apartments, offices, and a waterfront restaurant with open space. A block east of his site, the FDR Drive cuts off access to the riverfront.

Today, local City Council member Daniel Garodnick endorsed a community board-sponsored plan to push an $80-$100 million rerouting of the road and easements from the developer to build a deck from Solow’s site across the highway to the water.

Unlike questions of how high Solow’s towers will climb, the idea of a waterfront park enjoys wide support.

“There are adversarial issues in the overall plan, so we want to make sure this is not lost in the overall discussion,” State Senator Liz Krueger, who represents the site’s neighborhood, told The Real Deal.

Solow would have to provide easements on the eastern edge of his property to let state and city agencies move the FDR further inland and build a platform for pedestrian access.

“The only way to accomplish this is to connect the east side of [Solow’s] property by decking,” Garodnick told reporters.

The idea that Garodnick and other elected officials endorsed today grew from a 2007 design workshop with community members and major landscape architects at the Municipal Art Society. It would tear down a gate at 38th Street to maintain a continuous waterfront and drop the FDR low enough to allow pedestrians to cross over it.

Proponents say that because the state plans to upgrade the FDR in the next few years anyway, the moment is crucial for securing public waterfront access. And they point out the benefit such access would bring to developers nearby.

“The buildings around Bryant Park have seen a 150 percent increase because we brought that park back,” said New Yorkers for Parks director Christian DePalermo.

Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer was less subtle about who should foot the bill for waterfront access: “This gets accomplished by bringing the developer in and saying: you will do this!”

The press-shy Solow issued an official statement asserting harmony with the park’s proponents.

“We wholeheartedly support the concept of a waterfront park; the development has been designed to accommodate a future connection to the East River,” it said. “We will certainly consider creating an easement.”

Privately, a source close to Solow says the only controversy involves who pays for the deck and laid that responsibility to advocates.