With Wagner Park Set to Close for Two Years, New Space May Take Its Place

Lookng north from near Battery Place, the 65-foot-wide promenade that the Battery Park City Authority is offering to temporarily turn into park-like space. Photo: Carl Glassman/Tribeca Trib

Oct. 25, 2022

How do you make up for the two-year loss of an entire park?

With popular Wagner Park set to close for resiliency reconstruction, the Battery Park City Authority hopes to soften the blow to park users with a reimagined temporary space nearby. And they are looking to the public for ideas.

The space is a three-block-long stretch of promenade along West Street between Battery Place and 3rd Place. The Authority is seeking suggestions by way of an online survey as well as input from meetings with Community Board 1.

The initiative comes on the heels of protests over the loss of green space in the original plan that led to a revised design that added 12,800 more square feet of green. In addition, the Battery Park City Neighborhood Association is currently calling for a halt to the demolition, and consideration of a different resiliency plan that they say would cause less impact to the park and allow it to remain open. (On Thursday, Oct. 27, the group will give an online presentation by their own experts on an alternative plan for the park.) They are seeking support from Gov. Kathy Hochul, who has yet to respond.

In the meantime, the Authority, which has been holding public planning meetings on flood protections for Battery Park City, including Wagner Park, since 2016, is moving ahead. Its plan is to elevate the park up to 12 feet, with a raised central lawn and terraced gardens, and an extension of the esplanade that will connect to Pier A. Officials say they hope to have the new, temporary park space completed by the spring. 

“We think there may be an opportunity to activate it in a way that can be very fun and very interesting for folks in the neighborhood to use and enjoy over the course of the coming years,” Nicholas Sbordone, the BPCA’s vice president for community affairs, told CB1’s Battery Park City Committee last week. The park will close in “the coming weeks,” he said, but no date has been set.

The 65-foot-wide promenade runs between Little West Street, on the west, and the bikeway to the east. Once transformed, it will still be wide enough, officials say, to continue to accommodate foot traffic through the space. The Authority says it plans to conduct a study of pedestrian traffic patterns.

Mimi Taft, the Authority’s senior manager for special projects, said the 24,000-square-foot promenade “evolves naturally” from the touristy section in the south, near Battery Place and across the street from Pier A, to a more residential stretch closer to 3rd Place. That means the northern part may be more suited to a garden or play area, while a “gateway” of some sort could be created near the southern entrance, followed by programming that could relate to nearby PS/IS 276, or become a place for some of the fitness programs held in Wagner Park.

Sbordone said the Authority would like a “broad consensus” of what the community wants by the end of the year, with construction taking place during the winter. Continued discussion on plans for the space will be held at the next remote public meeting of CB1’s Battery Park City Committee, on Tuesday, Nov. 2, at 6 p.m. You can join it here. Responses to the survey are requested by the middle of November.

Comments? Send them to carlg@tribecatrib.com


Wagner Park Does Not Need These 'Drastic Measures'

Thank you for your latest coverage of the controversies surrounding the two-year closing, and then demolishing of Wagner Park in Battery Park City.  (“Wanted: Ideas for New, Temporary, BPC Park,” October 25”). The plan by the Battery Park City Authority, the state-controlled agency that runs the park is getting some, but I fear, too little public visibility. Yet the little park has great significance for Downtown, and the city as a whole —much beyond its small size. 

My wife and I walk there every morning, weather permitting. To us, the state Authority’s plan is bureaucratic, clueless, and heartbreaking. Wagner Park is not an everyday neighborhood park.  For one thing, at the very center of the park is the Museum of Jewish Heritage, an expansive and personal presentation of the Holacaust. And much of the landscaping is deeply influenced by the presence of the museum.  Mature weeping willows, which grace one side of the Museum will be ripped out.  But these willows are meaningful: they are weeping for a reason.  

It is also designed to provide the city’s most direct and dramatic view of Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty, and in that way, celebrates the struggles and contributions of all immigrants to our country… in an atmosphere of peace, repose and contemplation. A recent statue there, of Mother Cabrini, herself an immigrant, underlines this significance. 

The plan of the Authority will not simply “elevate green space against flooding” (although, fact: the area did not flood during hurricane Sandy) and provide plazas and “community” areas. It will also raze the existing park. It will tear down 48 old growth trees, which give the park so much elegance. The beautifully designed, flowering shrubbery, groves of lavender, and other flora is already being ripped out. It will be replaced, so say the Authority’s cheerful signs placed around the park, with new paths, plazas, community spaces, perhaps expanded restaurant space. Really, do we need these? Immediately adjacent is the 17-mile Hudson River Park with dozens of such spaces.  By contrast, the park is a rare quiet place in the city, with perhaps an undercurrent of sadness and struggle. This is, at least, how my wife and I, Tribeca residents, and our friends experience the place. 

On October 11, I was at a rally sponsored by the Battery Park City Neighborhood Association (BPCNA), in front of the Authority’s monthly meeting.  The Authority refused to admit even one representative of the neighborhood group. Members of the group told me that this has been true for months. One member of the committee said that she was once told “this is not a democratic decision.” The BPCNA says that this part of Battery Park City was always designed for resilience, and does not need drastic measures.

I don’t know if the demolition of Wagner Park can be stopped at this point.  Personally, I don’t think the proposed temporary three-block open space is anything but a deflection of the community’s serious objections. I certainly hope, with more publicity, such as that in your newspaper, that it can be stopped or seriously reconsidered.  Manhattan needs storm resilience badly, but this is not the way to go about it.