The Lowline Just Cleared a Major Hurdle Toward Opening in 4 Years, but Not Everyone is Thrilled About it

Posted on: July 14th, 2016 at 5:00 am by
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City officials yesterday evening announced their full support of the $90 million Lowline project, some five years after its conception. As previously reported, the proposed tech-savvy park will reside in the old trolley terminal beneath Delancey Street (and visible in the Essex Street subway station).

The announcement came during the Community Board 3 meeting meant to address same. However, the city, vis-a-vis the Economic Development Corporation, is calling it a “conditional approval” to designate this as the “winning” project for the 60,000 square-feet of unused space. In order to fully comply, the Lowline non-profit agreed to create a community engagement committee, raising $10 million within the next year, and developing blueprints within the same timeframe.

If all is met, and approval is granted, the lease on the space would be signed in the fall of 2018, and ground-break some two years later.

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Lowline team and Councilwoman Margaret Chin

Last night’s determination is also further proof that the whole dog and pony show from the EDC regarding a Request for Expression of Interest (RFEI) was basically just a red herring. A charade of appeasement to push forward with the Lowline. We learned that there were no other applications submitted as part of the RFEI. There was skepticism about the selection process back in the winter that never went away. Namely, the lame-ass “outreach” conducted to pitch the space to other hopefuls (i.e. not enough time for a full proposal). As some feared, EDC advanced without going through any formal Request for Proposal process (and allegedly without further community input).

Obviously the chosen project would be the Lowline. And even though CB3 approved it in 2012, some serious concerns developed in the interim. For instance, the argument that it doesn’t serve the broader needs of the community. Damaris Reyes, executive director of GOLES and a CB3 member, made it known that the Lowline is custom-built to serve outsiders; it will lure attention (and funding) from other struggling parks in the neighborhood without the deep pockets; and will further expedite area gentrification.

The counter to that argument is the belief that increased foot traffic to the area would spur local business and increase visibility of the Lower East Side as a whole. (Get ready for the High Line effect.) Founder Dan Barasch pointed to the successful attendance numbers at the Lowline Lab on Essex Street – 70,000 visitors since last October, but only open ten hours per week.

Other board members reiterated the recent chatter in transportation circles about potentially utilizing the old trolly space during the inevitable L train shutdown. Lots of people will be riding that B39 bus, and the abandoned terminal could prove useful in that regard. But it doesn’t seem like the MTA, which has the lease for the next several years, is very much interested in that.

Also, there are reservations about how the non-profit will be self-sustaining. And to that end, what the programming will be onsite (concessions, concerts?). We’ll have to wait longer. The official proposal isn’t public. EDC reps last night confirmed that you’d need to submit a FOIL to get that information.

The most vocal proponents on the panel were former Chair Dominic Berg and Tim Laughlin, executive director of the LES Partnership. Even Councilwoman Margaret Chin was in attendance to shill.

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