January 20, 2005
Waiting, Waiting on a Plan for the Fulton Corridor
By DAVID W. DUNLAP
The future of the landmark-quality former headquarters of Keuffel & Esser would be affected by a completed Fulton Street corridor plan.
THE "Fulton Corridor Action Plan" - a river-to-river redevelopment framework for Fulton Street and environs, with an emphasis on shopping, entertainment and the arts - was initiated in 2002 by the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation and the City Planning Department. They awarded the project to Robert A. M. Stern Architects, known for its work on the retail revitalization of 42nd Street.
To date, there has been action on the Fulton corridor, but there is still no publicly articulated plan, though the need for one is growing more urgent.
For instance, the landmark-quality former Keuffel & Esser headquarters at 127 Fulton Street is for sale, with no clear indication of how it might fit in with a market hall that is envisioned on the same block, at the northeast corner of Nassau Street.
And the greater Fulton Street plan, whatever it is, will have to compete with other projects for the diminishing federal grants available in Lower Manhattan. Gov. George E. Pataki has set a deadline of March for laying out spending priorities.
"We have reason to believe they're working on good stuff, but without seeing the plans, it's hard to know," said Petra Todorovich, an associate planner at the independent, nonprofit Regional Plan Association.
Two weeks ago, it appeared that the public would finally get a chance to glimpse a more detailed future of Fulton Street and lower Greenwich Street, where new parkland might be created on a deck over the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel entrance. A panel discussion with state and city officials was scheduled Jan. 11 at the Center for Architecture in Greenwich Village, but the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation declined to participate and the event was not held.
"The frustration, very simply, is that we have been saying that it's not just about the World Trade Center site," said Fredric M. Bell, executive director of the New York chapter of the American Institute of Architects, which runs the Center for Architecture.
Given the extraordinary demands of ground zero, it is not hard to understand why planners sometimes seem to slight other areas downtown. Still, if Lower Manhattan is to rebound fully, its social, cultural and economic health will rest on more than the new World Trade Center alone, which is why it is so important to get a picture of what officials have in mind for Fulton Street, Greenwich Street and the East River waterfront.
Kevin M. Rampe, the president of the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, and Daniel L. Doctoroff, the deputy mayor for economic development and rebuilding, said yesterday that the Fulton Street plan was near completion and that planning for Greenwich Street was under way. Both projects will come into sharper focus, they said, once spending priorities are set and it is known how much money remains for projects outside ground zero, after ensuring construction of a memorial and cultural buildings.
In federally financed projects that involve the acquisition of real property, notices must be sent to all residents or businesses that may be displaced. The more refined and focused the plan, Mr. Rampe said, the fewer such disruptive notices need to be sent.
On the other hand, the longer the wait for a plan, the more speculation is likely to occur. That is underscored by the uncertain fate of the Keuffel & Esser Building, an 8-story, 113-year-old structure that is on the market for $9.8 million.
(If you are old enough to know what a slide rule is, you know K+E. If not, you can find a K+E Analon slide rule at the Smithsonian Institution. Keuffel & Esser donated it in the 1970's as the pocket calculator pushed the slide rule to near-extinction.)
Keuffel & Esser was founded in 1867 - a date memorialized on the facade at 127 Fulton Street - and acquired 120 years later by Azon. Its name is still on the Fulton Street building, as are reliefs depicting precision tools and scientific instruments. The architects, De Lemos & Cordes, later designed the Macy's flagship at Herald Square.
IT'S a critical building in that it raises the threshold of good architecture on the street," said Ken Lustbader of the Lower Manhattan Emergency Preservation Fund, a coalition of five preservation-minded groups.
In 2002, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg offered his vision for the same block: Fulton Market Square, which he described as "a great place to shop, see a movie, look at art or just people-watch."
Whether the old building fits into this vision at all is unclear. So is the future of the market hall itself, which might cost $30 million. "Fulton Market Square is still a possibility, but it will be a function of available funds," Mr. Doctoroff said yesterday. "And it's not an inconsequential project in terms of money."
Mr. Doctoroff said the city had not yet examined in detail whether the Keuffel & Esser Building and the market hall could coexist or be combined in some way.
As a general principle, Mr. Rampe said, preservation is critical to economic redevelopment downtown. "Historic structures in Lower Manhattan play an incredibly important role in making it the place it is," he said.
That is why advocates like Mr. Lustbader are concerned about the planning limbo on Fulton and Greenwich Streets. "It's unclear what is actually going to be implemented," he said. "Will there be an official plan versus private-sector real estate speculation that can affect the redevelopment of Lower Manhattan at the expense of historic properties?"
Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company