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Old March 18th, 2008, 09:36 PM   #101
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Astoria's boarders to shred at skate park

daily news staff writer

Tuesday, March 18th 2008, 4:00 AM

Work on a $1.25 million skateboard park that a local Councilman has been trying to have built in Astoria Park for years is finally scheduled to get underway soon.

"This project will give kids a place to skate that is far away from the busy sidewalks and parks where they sometimes inconvenience other people, especially seniors," said Councilman Peter Vallone Jr., who provided most of the funding.

Almost four years ago, Vallone (D-Astoria) noticed that a large parcel of land under the Triborough Bridge was fenced off and full of construction equipment.

Upon further investigation, Vallone discovered the land was leased by a construction firm. Once the lease expired, he petitioned the Parks Department not to renew it.

In July, the company was told to remove its equipment. The plot now sits as a vacant, open area primed for work to begin on the skateboarding facility.

Currently, skateboarders use Athens Square Park at 30th Ave. and 30th St., among other areas.

"I have been working to bring this project to Astoria for a long time. It is fulfilling to see something go from an idea to a completion during my term as a Council member," Vallone said. "Before, all we had here was trucks and equipment. Now, we will have a great park for kids to come and have fun."

Queens Parks Commissioner Dorothy Lewandowski said the new park will offer the obstacles skateboarders crave while at the same time limiting the city's liability.

"What we are creating in Astoria Park replicates in many ways a lot of the municipal street furniture that kids skate on already. But this gives them a destination location where they can meet in a safe, secure environment," Lewandowski said.

The new skate plaza "will have ramps that have a maximum height of three feet, which for the city meets our criteria for limiting liabilities," she added. "Anything over three feet requires that Parks have supervision and that it be gated and closed when we don't have park staff on duty."

Contractors are scheduled to break ground on the project in early May and expect to finish in nine months, Vallone said.

Located under the bridge and near Shore Blvd., the skate park site, he said, is situated far enough away so as not to disturb Astoria residents.

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Old March 21st, 2008, 03:55 AM   #102
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The end nears for Kosciuszko Bridge


Thursday, March 20th 2008, 4:00 AM

Tracy for News

Traffic on the Kosciuszko

A state agency has lifted a puzzling bureaucratic roadblock that significantly delayed a long-awaited plan to replace the traffic-choked Kosciuszko Bridge.

The Historic Preservation Office last week abandoned its push to preserve the deteriorating bridge, thus ending an inter-agency squabble that delayed final approval of the project by at least six months, the Daily News confirmed Wednesday.

The state Transportation Department had originally anticipated receiving federal authorization for the roughly $700 million project - the final regulatory hurdle - by the end of last year.

However, as The News first reported last month, the DOT was forced to shelve the project last November after Historic Preservation objected to final design plans that call for the Kosciuszko to be demolished and replaced by two new parallel bridges.

Preservation officials deemed the aging span "a significant and unusual variation of the Warren truss type bridge" and argued that a rehab was "a prudent and feasible alternative to demolition," according to a letter obtained by The News.

In response, DOT officials presented Historic Preservation with a report justifying replacement of the 1939 bridge, which carries the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway over Newtown Creek between Maspeth, Queens, and Greenpoint, Brooklyn.

The report addressed safety concerns, such as its steep grade and substandard merging lanes - factors responsible for bottlenecked traffic and a high accident rate, according to the DOT.

In a written response on Friday, Historic Preservation officials threw in the towel.

"We concur that there are no prudent and feasible alternatives to the demolition of this historic bridge," an official wrote. "We find that correction of many of the substandard safety features would significantly alter character-defining features of the bridge."

DOT spokesman Adam Levine said final design plans will be published in May, triggering a 30-day public comment period and a decision on final authorization, expected from the federal government in midsummer.

Those with a stake in the project called the hangup pointless.

"We had an unnecessary delay in this project," said Christine Holowacz, co-chairwoman of the Greenpoint Waterfront Association for Parks and Planning.

George Kosser, vice president of Karp Associates, a Maspeth company whose plant will be acquired through eminent domain to make way for the project, said the holdup left him in limbo - and blocked him from negotiating for new sites for the business.

"It kept the sword hanging in midair without giving me the date when it is going to drop," Kosser said.

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Old March 21st, 2008, 03:58 AM   #103
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Volume 20, Number 44 | THE NEWSPAPER OF LOWER MANHATTAN | MARCH 14 - 20, 2008

Southbridge votes to take the park and the money

By Julie Shapiro

The new DeLury Square Park, above, will have a winding path and a waterfall. Below, the parcel of land Southbridge Towers residents voted to sell to the city to create the park.

It isn’t often that the government pays residents for the opportunity to build a park, but at Southbridge Towers, residents find themselves in just that position.

Southbridge residents voted overwhelmingly this week to sell a parcel of land to the city, in return for which they will receive both a new DeLury Square park and $5.57 million.

The city decided to take the curved intersection of Fulton and Gold Sts. and transform it into a traditional intersection, creating space for a 10,000-square-foot park. But first, the city needed a piece of Southbridge Towers land, and the recent vote paves the way for this sale.

“We’re all very delighted,” said Wally Dimson, president of the Southbridge Towers board. “It’s an opportunity to have a beautiful park.”

Dimson cited the results — 534 in favor and 89 opposed — as evidence of the widespread support for the sale. The money will go into the Southbridge Towers budget, Dimson said, and part of it will be used to improve the complex’s security system.

The city hopes to start construction this fall and open the park in fall 2009.

In selling the land, Southbridge is also getting rid of a sinkhole that would have to be filled, at the cost of at least $2 million, said Paul Hovitz, a resident and Community Board 1 member. That brings the value of the sale up to $7.5 million, he said.

Southbridge will also get a tree-shaded square, which residents and the Parks Department have described as an oasis of shrubbery and lawns, complete with a small stream and a waterfall.

The corner of Fulton and Gold Sts. is currently the epicenter of a construction war zone, with machinery belowground and plywood barriers above, and trucks struggling to navigate in between. But once the replacement of a 150-year-old water main is complete, the city plans to square off the corner of Fulton and Gold Sts., making the intersection safer to cross and also opening up space for the park.

The only concern Hovitz and other residents have raised about the park is that it could become a camping ground for homeless people or a hangout for teenagers. Several recent fights on Fulton St. have highlighted the problems with local high school students, which First Precinct police officers say will get worse as the weather gets warmer.

“I don’t think you deny an amenity because of a need for enforcement,” Hovitz said. “All in all, I think it’s good thing for Southbridge and the [whole] community.”

Ann DeFalco, co-chairperson of the Southbridge Parent and Youth Association, agreed with Hovitz.

“I don’t have a fear of it being a problem with students,” she said. “I think this is an opportunity for the Parks Department and the city to be involved in what’s going on in the neighborhood, and supply the security and beautiful grounds that go with it.”

The park will require its own maintenance and security, which the city will provide, so that means that “more people will be paying attention,” said DeFalco, who is also co-chair of Community Board 1’s Youth and Education Committee.

She thinks the park’s location — near shops, restaurants and residential complexes — will attract a mixture of people, especially the stroller-pushing crowd that has grown recently in the Seaport.

Even Joe Morrone, the leading critic of Southbridge selling the land, did not sound too displeased by the defeat. His biggest concerns now are that the Southbridge board uses the money to upgrade the complex and that the city’s construction of the park isn’t too disruptive.

“I was adamantly against it, but in retrospect it’s not such a bad thing,” Morrone said. “Any infusion into the treasury is good.”

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Old April 2nd, 2008, 01:50 AM   #104
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Parks Department squaring up Williamsburg Oval renovations


Tuesday, April 1st 2008, 4:00 AM

Williamsbridge Oval, the sprawling park that helps define the Norwood community, is in line for a slew of renovations, which some nearby residents are calling long overdue.

More than 100 community members converged on Epiphany Lutheran Church on E. 206th St. last week to meet with city officials and hash out ongoing concerns over unfinished facilities at the park.

"It's a safety issue," said Larry John, a member of the community group Friends of the Williamsbridge Oval.

Among the concerns were the need for a crosswalk or pedestrian path leading to the park, the completion of a dog run and repairs to parts of the outer iron railing.

"We're happy with what has been done, but there are more repairs needed," John said.

City Councilman Oliver Koppell echoed residents' concerns.

"It's a wonderful facility, but it has been badly neglected over the years," said Koppell, who in the past has pledged $500,000 of his capital budget toward the repairs.

City Parks and Recreation Department officials said last week that work is scheduled to be done on the Oval in three stages:

Phase One, which includes a $3.1 million renovation of the track and field to be completed this summer;

Phase Two, which is to start in Fall 2009 and take 15 months to complete and will include a $5.1 million reconstruction of the plaza area and the southern portion of the upper promenade;

Phase Three, which will involve a $3.1 million reconstruction of the recreation building, starting this fall, taking a year to complete.

In Spring 2006, the Parks and Recreation Department completed renovations to the northern portion of the former reservoir that included the rebuilding of a stone retaining wall, some fencing and entry gates. Also added were pedestrian entrances, drinking fountains, security lighting and some pathways.

Officials from Friends of the Williamsbridge Oval have been meeting with various city officials since September to push for more renovations.

In the wake of last week's meeting, there is optimism.

"We're on the right track," John said.

Koppell, who hopes to allocate another $150,000 from his upcoming capital budget, agreed.

"It's a very important facility for the district," he said. "I think we'll begin to see a real renaissance."

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Old April 7th, 2008, 12:29 AM   #105
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Tunnel Milestone, and More to Come

Published: April 6, 2008

Mike Rosenthal/New Jersey Transit

DURABLE MARVEL The view from a train going through the tunnel.

Mike Rosenthal/New Jersey Transit

DURABLE The twin train tunnels’ entrance in North Bergen, N.J.

A CENTURY AGO Workers in 1908 working on the train tunnel on the Manhattan side.

TO many commuters, the two tunnels that connect New Jersey and Pennsylvania Station in Manhattan seem so ordinary that they barely give them a second thought — except, perhaps, when their train breaks down inside them.

Yet when the Pennsylvania Railroad blasted the final pieces of rock out of the tunnels to complete the underground link a century ago this week, they were hailed by many as an engineering marvel and the product of foresight and gumption.

The Gilded Age tunnels have performed remarkably well and defied skeptics — including some of the engineers who built them and doubted their durability. Each business day, about 150,000 passengers ride the 337 New Jersey Transit trains that roll through the 6,100-foot-long cast iron tubes, which are owned and operated by Amtrak, which itself runs 104 trains. Another 39 empty New Jersey Transit trains use the tunnel.

But the tunnels reached their peak-hour capacity in 2003 when the Secaucus transfer hub opened. So New Jersey Transit and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey are planning to spend $7.6 billion to build a second set that will more than double, to 48 an hour, the number of trains that can traverse the Hudson.

The project, called Access to the Region’s Core, or ARC, is in some ways as monumental as the first tunnels, which cost the Pennsylvania Railroad $111 million, a price tag that included the old Pennsylvania Station and four other tunnels under the East River. (It’s about $2.5 billion now when accounting for inflation.)

If federal approval is given this summer and grants are secured later this year, construction will begin in early 2009 and take eight years. Contractors will deploy boring machines the length of football fields to drill through granite, schist and other materials, use laser-guided satellite signals to pinpoint their location, and carve a path under 34th Street so wide that commuters will be able to walk underground to 14 subway lines, and to PATH, Amtrak, New Jersey Transit and Long Island Rail Road trains.

The sophisticated machinery dwarfs the equipment used a century ago, when legions of sandhogs, or underground construction workers, risked their lives toiling in high-pressurized chambers slopping silt into carts that were hauled away by mules. But in other ways, the techniques for boring through hard rock and under riverbeds and serpentine city streets remain remarkably similar.

“The principles back then were almost the same except today, things are more mechanized and automated,” said Howard Sackel, the deputy chief of the tunnel project.

The ARC tunnels are part of a larger tableau of civil projects that include the construction of the Second Avenue subway and the East Side Access project that will bring L.I.R.R. trains to a station adjacent to Grand Central Terminal. Some pundits have compared these days of large-scale projects to when master builders like Robert Moses reshaped New York’s landscape with aplomb.

But many of these projects were designed decades ago, when New York’s existing bridges, tunnels and rail lines had already reached capacity. In that light, many transportation officials view the ARC project as an urgent necessity, not unlike the first tunnels that were designed so riders could avoid crossing the Hudson by ferry.

“We’re still living off the past in many ways, and we have to think big again,” said Rae Zimmerman, the director of the Institute for Civil Infrastructure Systems at New York University. “But we also really have to keep up the level of service because these big projects can take 20 to 30 years to build.”

Keeping up means raising tolls and fares at New Jersey Transit, Metro-North and the Long Island Rail Road as well as at the Port Authority and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. In addition, Gov. Jon S. Corzine wants to raise highway tolls by as much as 800 percent. New York State is mulling a plan to charge drivers $8 to enter a zone south of 60th Street in Manhattan. Drivers entering the city from New Jersey would pay an extra $3 or $4, something Mr. Corzine opposes.

Still, the ARC project has its skeptics, just like the first tunnels, which were championed by Alexander Cassatt, the president of the Pennsylvania Railroad. He had to win over shareholders who viewed the project as an expensive folly, as well as politicians in New York City who worried that the vast construction project would dilute their power by displacing so many residents.

These days, critics complain that the project would cost billions of dollars more than is currently projected and would overburden already crowded Midtown streets. Others say that the project is not ambitious enough, and that it should be extended to Grand Central Terminal. And critics say that the new annex would be too far underground and not part of other plans to redevelop the area around Pennsylvania Station.

“Having New Jersey Transit unilaterally place its commuters in a dead-end dungeon, we lose mobility,” said Albert L. Papp Jr., secretary of the National Association of Railroad Passengers. “For billions of dollars, we lose access to Penn Station and don’t get access to Grand Central Terminal.”

Like agency officials, though, many critics agree that in an era when transportation dollars are in short supply, securing money for new tunnels is critical.

While executives at New Jersey Transit and the Port Authority lobby Congress for up to $3 billion, a team of 200 engineers and architects has been busy planning every aspect of the project so construction can begin as soon as possible.

The westernmost part of the project is above ground at the Frank R. Lautenberg Station at Secaucus Junction, where a loop will be built so that instead of heading only to Hoboken, some Main, Bergen and Pascack Valley Line trains can head directly into Manhattan.

New Jersey Transit will use much of the rock and silt excavated from the tunnels to raise an 80-acre vacant lot in Kearny by 20 feet. That will create the extra space needed for trains to park at midday.

A second set of tracks will be built parallel to the existing Northeast Corridor route from Secaucus to North Bergen and the western edge of the Palisades. The new tracks, though, will veer south at Tonnelle Avenue and the entrance to the new tunnels.

There, a special hard-rock boring machine will begin its 5,000-foot descent to the river in Hoboken, where the tunnels will enter the Hudson a little more than 100 feet below ground. The distance and depth are no accident. Like the older tunnels, the new ones will have a grade of no more than 2 percent. Anything steeper and a train’s steel wheels slip on the steel rails.

“The character of steel has not changed much in the last century,” said Arthur D. Silber, the chief of the ARC project.

Geologists have taken 20,000 feet of core samples and determined that the Palisades here are filled with hard, abrasive diabase and sandstone. Workers a century ago used dynamite and rock drills to claw through the stone.

These days, operators sitting in an unpressurized chamber of a hard rock boring machine do the heavy lifting. They use computers to direct the machine. A drill in front of the shield takes samples of the rock ahead.

In front of the shield, a rotating disc with a diameter of just under 30 feet that is outfitted with about 20 specially designed teeth, chews away at the hill and spits out rocks the size of charcoal briquets. The stones roll past the shield and are carried back along the threads of a giant turning screw, which dumps the rocks onto a conveyor belt.

The machine will cover up to 50 feet a day, and it will move with far greater precision and with far less dangerous blasting than a century ago.

The most dramatic changes in construction techniques, though, are those for drilling under the river. A hundred years ago, engineers pushed iron shields that weighed up to 200 tons through the silt and clay. Nine small doors on the shield were opened at different times to allow silt and clay to pass through them like a sieve into a pressurized chamber, where workers loaded the material onto carts.

Workers also removed debris — boulders, wooden poles from wharves — that were blocking the shields’ path.

As the shields moved forward, workers installed 11-ton cast iron rings that were bolted in by hand to form the circular body of the tunnel. The liner plates were 30 inches wide and once secured, were used as leverage for pistons that pushed the shield forward by precisely another 30 inches. Sandhogs progressed up to 30 feet a day.

To speed the construction of the tunnels, the Pennsylvania Railroad had teams on both sides of the Hudson race to get to the state line under the river. (The New York team ultimately won.) This meant that each time a plate was installed, the engineers had to determine their location to ensure they were on track to meet the team advancing from the opposite shore.

Charles Jacobs, chief engineer of the North River tunnels, told a reporter at the time that this was a “simple problem of trigonometry.” Surveyors would use 100-foot lengths of piano wire inside the tunnel and towers on both shores to confirm that they were on the correct path.

“They would check every five or six rings to make sure they were straight,” said Bernie Martin, a professional engineer at Parsons Brinckerhoff and an expert on tunnel construction. “Nowadays, it’s like navigating a space ship. The accuracy is superb.”

Surveyors often discovered that they were off course, sometimes by several feet. When one of the tunnels from New Jersey was two feet too high, heavier rings were used in the hope of sinking the tunnel farther. Even after the tunnels were completed and left to settle in the silt, some engineers considered bolting the tunnel to the bedrock if the tunnel shifted too much.

“No one knew if that tunnel was 100 percent safe until trains had been going through it for many years,” Jill Jonnes, the author of “Conquering Gotham” (Viking Adult), which details the building of the tunnels and Pennsylvania Station, said in an interview. “They really didn’t know how long the tunnels would keep sinking in the mud and whether they would crack. There was no precedent for a tunnel having hundreds of 700-ton trains going though them.”

To this day, the tunnels continue to drift ever so slightly in the riverbed.

This time, engineers will use an earth pressure balance machine to bore from New Jersey all the way to New York, and then switch to a hard rock machine to burrow under Manhattan.

The front of the machine, similar to the hard rock borer, absorbs muck and passes it through the shield. As the machine moves forward, 12-inch- and 18-inch-thick concrete segments will be put into the place behind the shield to form the wall of the tunnels. Some contractors use precast segments, while others pour concrete into forms. In both cases, gaskets are inserted in the seams between the segments to keep water and mud from seeping in.

To determine the tunnel’s location, lasers send coordinates from the boring machine back to the tunnel opening and up to global positioning satellites. Instead of dozens of sandhogs toiling in high-pressure chambers forever in danger of getting the bends, 6 to 10 workers operate the earth pressure balance machine.

When the original tunnels were built, engineers dug a three-block-wide trench from 12th Avenue to Seventh Avenue to form the West Side railyards and the tracks under Penn Station. They drew up plans for two more tunnels.

The new tunnels will enter Manhattan between 28th and 29th Streets about 150 feet below ground to avoid a bulkhead at the river’s edge, the Hudson River Park and what is expected to become the extension of the No. 7 subway line that is supposed to run along 11th Avenue.

The tunnels will run northeast to 10th Avenue and split into lower and upper tunnels that will form a two-tiered cavern with six tracks under 34th Street. The station will extend from Eighth Avenue to Sixth Avenue, with a “tail” to Fifth Avenue for trains to park.

Some transportation advocates say the new station will be a security issue because it will be more than 150 feet deep. They also note that the six tracks will be far from Penn Station, making changing trains difficult.

“There is a perception in public that this is not a deep cavern, that it’s just below the street,” said Joseph M. Clift, a member of the Regional Rail Working Group. “It sounds like fear mongering, but it’s an attractive target.”

Other transportation advocates say the construction costs are likely to soar, which could mean many more fare increases. They also question whether New Jersey Transit and other agencies have ensured that the additional 60,000 commuters who are expected to use the new station by 2030 do not overwhelm the nearby streets.

“Where do these extra people go when there’s no room for them now?” asked Kyle Wiswall, general counsel of the Tri-State Transportation Campaign. “As much of your commute is getting from the station to your office.”

Mr. Silber of New Jersey Transit said that the extra passengers going through the new station would be a “small contributor to the street traffic,” and that his agency is working with the city and New York State to develop a comprehensive plan to address the additional pedestrians.

In a report released last month, analysts at the Regional Plan Association called for the tunnels to be extended from 34th Street to near Grand Central Terminal so commuters working on the East Side do not need to clog the subways and streets getting to and from their offices.

But they concede that their proposal is the second phase of the project, and that it is important to set aside differences so construction can begin on the first phase.

“Before you can get to Madison Avenue, let’s get the funding in place, get the thing under construction and then figure out what’s next,” said Jeffrey Zupan, a senior fellow for transportation at the association.
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Old April 9th, 2008, 04:31 AM   #106
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City has big plans for acres at Hunts Pt.


Tuesday, April 8th 2008, 4:00 AM

Hunts Point could see a northern version of the South Street Seaport under city plans to develop vacant land there.

Those plans - part of an Economic Development Corp. proposal to develop six different sites on 25 acres in Hunts Point - also envision an alternative fuel station to help reduce exhaust emissions from the hundreds of trucks entering and leaving the sprawling food market there daily.

The EDC recently presented the potential development plan to Community Board 2.

The new businesses could add several hundred new jobs to the 10,000 already in the area, along with improving the image of the neighborhood, said John Robert, the board's district manager.

"It'll solidify Hunts Point's position as a food distribution center," he said. "We would love for it to be known as the breadbasket of the nation."

Robert said the EDC reported a large number of businesses interested in moving into Hunts Point, with a number of government tax incentives available.

The EDC said it will issue a request for proposals this month for a long, narrow, 3.7-acre strip of land along Food Center Drive that the city would like to turn into a center for alternative fuel.

Kellie Terry-Sepulveda, of The Point Community Development Corp., called the alternative fueling station crucial: "We have huge air quality issues here."

Another site in the plan is a triangular parcel that abuts the future Hunts Point Landing, next to the South Bronx Greenway, which the EDC said could be used for recreational purposes, such as a park or marina, a South Street Seaport-type development, a food-related use, an organics recovery facility or a freight ferry terminal to move goods in and out of the food market.

Other sites include a 3-acre fruit auction rail shed and an 8.5-acre parcel next to the proposed alternative fueling site that is slated for a "food-related" use.

In its presentation, the EDC said the overall goal of the project is for development to "simultaneously maximize new job opportunities and minimize air quality impacts."

Terry-Sepulveda has even higher expectations.

"Ideally, we're looking to find a nice balance between a working waterfront and something that is focused on economic development and something that ties into the needs of the community - a community that has access to the waterfront for recreation."

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Old April 11th, 2008, 11:14 PM   #107
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More questions than answers regarding new Maspeth high school


Friday, April 11th 2008, 4:00 AM

A new 1,650-seat intermediate high school proposed for Maspeth would serve grades six through 12, but would not have parking for some 170 staffers, city officials told a packed community meeting.

But residents at the crowded Community Board 5 meeting Wednesday wanted a simple question answered: Will the proposed school serve only students from Maspeth and Middle Village - communities that currently lack a public high school?

"I can't definitively answer that," said Mary Leas, a project support manager for the School Construction Authority. "It would be for the immediate neighborhood first ... then open up further."

The proposed school would be at the site of a former Restaurant Depot on 57th Ave. at 74th St. - a neighborhood where buses from nearby Intermediate School 73 and Public School 58 already clog local streets.

"It's awful now with the buses - and the mothers are ridiculous. They double-park and you can't drive down the street," said longtime resident Frances Savino.

Leas said the Restaurant Depot property, which the city is negotiating to buy, represents a unique opportunity to build a high school in an underserved community.

"The schools are very crowded in Queens, and we have been desperately looking for large sites to build high schools - they are the hardest spots to find," she said.

Residents appeared divided on the matter, with some blasting it as inappropriate for an already overcrowded community and many saying they would support the proposal only if it is built solely for local students.

"Our kids deserve a high school like every other community in Queens," said Dan Creighton, a board member from Middle Village. "This may be as good a spot as we can find."

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Old April 11th, 2008, 11:18 PM   #108
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Volume 20, Number 48 | THE NEWSPAPER OF LOWER MANHATTAN | APRIL 11 - 18, 2008

Work begins on Lin’s Chinese Museum expansion

By Julie Shapiro

Downtown Express photos by Elisabeth Robert

Charles Lai, executive director of the Museum of Chinese in America, hopes Maya Lin’s design for the new larger space on Centre St. will be open early next year. Work on the space has just begun.

Rendering courtesy of the Museum of Chinese in the Americas

As Charles Lai recently strode out of the Museum of Chinese in America’s new building, he couldn’t stop smiling.

“Excitement is not the word,” said Lai, executive director of the museum. “We’ve been waiting to get this thing going forever and a half.”

Lai had stopped by the new MoCA building at 211-215 Centre St. to check out the progress on interior construction, which started in mid-March. He hopes to move the museum from its current location on Mulberry St. to its new home by early next year.

The new space has a lot going for it, Lai said. At 14,000 square feet, the Centre St. loft is six times bigger than the museum’s space on Mulberry St. Just as exciting, he added, is that renowned architect Maya Lin designed the new museum space.

“It’s been a labor of love,” said Amanda Heng, spokesperson for the museum, as she walked through the cramped exhibit space on Mulberry St. “At the same time, we’re in need of a change.”

The new museum is all about change, down to the neighborhood in which it sits. That block of Centre St., between Howard and Grand Sts., was not part of Chinatown 50 years ago. The neighborhood was industrial and 211 Centre St. was a prime example: It housed a machine repair shop.

Over time, Chinatown expanded from its birthplace at Doyers and Pell Sts., and now MoCA’s expansion is part of the larger story of Chinatown’s growth, Heng said. Replacing an industrial use with a museum “is a very significant change,” she added, “but we’re trying to honor the space.”

Lin’s design for the museum features bronze, earthy tones with lots of glass and wood. Lin will retain or reuse as much of the repair shop’s original wood as possible.

It will cost $15 million to build out the museum and start the programming, and MoCA has raised $10 million so far, Heng said. The Lower Manhattan Development Corporation gave MoCA $2 million in a community enhancement grant last fall.

The Mulberry St. museum several blocks away only had room for one major exhibit, entitled “Where Is Home?” The new museum will have six new exhibits, including “America: Staking Claims,” focusing on American immigration laws, and “Made in America!?,” which will explore how globalization influenced American culture. To personalize the exhibits, MoCA will display films of people narrating their stories.

When the new museum opens, the Mulberry St. space will become an archival research center, so the public can view MoCA’s extensive collection of photographs and documents. The museum is raising money to possibly renovate or expand that space, which could take several more years.

MoCA’s current location has been mostly closed to the public since February, but the museum still holds historical walking tours of the neighborhood. The museum also hosts several school groups a week in its small exhibit space, which doubles as a conference room. At its peak, the Mulberry St. location drew 120,000 visitors a year. Heng hopes to surpass 300,000 visitors a year in the new location.

In the past, MoCA has had trouble squeezing in all the visitors who want to see the exhibits, Lai said.

“It pains me on a personal basis — that we have to end up turning away school children,” he said. “How dare we turn them away?”

That’s a problem Lai hopes he will never face — or at least not for a while — once the new museum opens. The new MoCA will have a special entrance just for school groups and far more room to accommodate them.

To Lai, the museum has a dual role: To serve as a tribute to the ancestors of Chinese Americans, and to teach that history to a new generation. The community has been waiting for years for the museum to open, and Lai is eager to deliver.

Workers have already gutted the first floor, an expansive 7,000-square-foot loft space. The highlight will be a sunlit courtyard in the center, which will diffuse natural light over the exhibits. As in a Chinese house, each section of the exhibit will open into the courtyard.

For now, naked bulbs hang from the ceiling, illuminating the building’s original, peeling columns, which divide the space. The columns will be part of the finished product, as will dark wooden floorboards that are now protected by a layer of plastic and plywood.

The first floor will remain largely open. Most visitors will enter the museum on Centre St., where Lin designed a new facade of wood, concrete and bronze. As they enter, visitors will pass the Journey Wall, a mosaic of 300 bronze tiles. Lin designed the wall to honor the museum’s donors in Chinese and English, but each tile will also include the donor’s country of origin and current hometown, creating a display of personal journeys.

From the entrance, visitors will move into a reception area and tea room, which open into several large gallery spaces. The galleries will hold both core and rotating exhibits, allowing MoCA to display items that have been sitting in storage. Heng is excited about the new museum store, which will sell children’s books and items designed by Chinese and Asian American artists. The current museum store is limited to a bookcase behind the reception desk.

School groups will use the museum’s Lafayette St. entrance, which will funnel them into a cultural resource center that will also host youth activities. After school hours, Heng envisions the space as a hangout for local children, teenagers and families, with programs like film screenings and roundtable discussions.

The lower level of the new building will house a 100-seat auditorium, offices, a conference room and a studio. Artists could use the studio to create pieces for exhibit, but the creative process itself could also become an exhibit, Heng said. For example, visitors might be able to watch artists prepare fabric for an upcoming fashion display about a Chinese dress called the qi pao.

Several meeting and reception spaces in the new museum will be available for rental and community use. Chinatown groups will use the spaces for meetings and forums and residents will be able to attend educational programs like language classes

MoCA’s offices are still in the old location at 70 Mulberry St., where they will remain until the end of the year. In a small gallery shaped like the inside of a Chinese lantern, a condensed version of MoCA’s core “Where Is Home?” exhibit is on display. It includes a sparkling Chinese opera costume, cracked suitcases and brittle restaurant menus from the early 20th century.

Lai and co-founder Jack Tchen started pulling these objects out of dumpsters in the 1980s. Men who had emigrated from China decades earlier were dying without families, partly because the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act had made it difficult for them to reunite with families left behind in China or to remarry in the United States. The act was repealed in 1943.

When the men without families died, their possessions ended up on the street. Lai and Tchen gathered armloads of artifacts and started the museum in a basement. They hurried to collect oral histories, letters and photographs from older residents before their story was lost, expanding the focus beyond New York.

As Heng stood in the center of the new museum, electric saws buzzed on the floor beneath her. The space’s 14,000 square feet may not sound big, she said, “But it’s phenomenal to us. It’s a start.”

If the museum does well, it could someday expand onto the upper floors of the building, which now house offices and commercial space. Gesturing toward the ceiling, Heng smiled. “Hopefully we’ll move onward and upward,” she said.

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Old April 12th, 2008, 10:32 PM   #109
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Volume 20, Number 48 | THE NEWSPAPER OF LOWER MANHATTAN | APRIL 11 - 18, 2008

West St. work will close Rector bridge again temporarily

By Julie Shapiro

Downtown Express file photo by Jefferson Siegel

Contractors worked on West St. and the Rector St. bridge last month. The bridge is expected to close again for four weeks this summer.

The Rector St. pedestrian bridge, which connects southern Battery Park City to the Greenwich St. South neighborhood, will likely close for four weeks sometime this summer, the State Department of Transportation said last week.

State D.O.T. does not know exactly when the bridge will close, but at least 12 weeks of other work on the Route 9A project has to take place first, said Thomas Mellett, construction manager for Route 9A. The closure will definitely happen in 2008, he said.

The bridge will be closed so State D.O.T. can move the eastern staircase and landing. As they currently stand, the towers supporting the eastern staircase would extend past the new curb line of the revamped 9A, also called West St. To fix this, State D.O.T. is removing the entire staircase and rebuilding it 8 feet to the north.

Last month, State D.O.T. removed the south tube of the Rector St. bridge, also because its footings interfered with the Route 9A work. State D.O.T. had long-term plans to remove the entire bridge — which was meant to be a temporary structure after 9/11 — but after the community and the Battery Park City Authority advocated for keeping the bridge, State D.O.T. agreed to the staircase shift.

During the four weeks the bridge is closed, the B.P.C.A. will refurbish the ramp, bridge floor and lighting. The authority will also seal and weatherproof the bridge’s tube. To ensure coordination with State D.O.T.’s schedule, the authority will use the same contractor.

The bridge is still considered temporary, and the authority is working on designs for a new bridge in the south neighborhood. The authority set aside a landing space for the permanent bridge near the W. Thames St. dog run, but the problem is finding a landing space for the bridge on the east side. For now, it looks like the Rector St. bridge will stay up for years, at least.

When Mellett presented the plan to Community Board 1’s Battery Park City Committee last week, the board had many concerns and suggestions.

Several people want the new staircase to be less steep and easier to climb than the old one, which they said was dangerous and difficult to manage. Others worried that after the south tube of the Rector St. bridge was recently removed, the single north tube would not be able to accommodate pedestrian traffic. Mellett replied that he would look into the concerns.

Mellett also gave the community board updates on the Vesey St. and Liberty St. bridges. The Vesey St. bridge will stay up until the underground concourse connecting the World Financial Center to the World Trade Center site opens in a few years. State D.O.T. doesn’t know when the Vesey St. bridge will come down, because the timeline depends largely on the Port Authority’s work, Mellett said.

The Liberty St. bridge will stay as it is for 2008, but in 2009 State D.O.T. plans to begin constructing a Cedar St. extension, routing pedestrians crossing the bridge onto Cedar St. rather than Liberty St., to allow work to continue at the World Trade Center site. The new stairway and elevator will touch down on the southeast corner of Cedar and West Sts. and will take three months to construct.

The Cedar St. extension is temporary, but Mellett expects it to be in place for at least four years. Ultimately, the Liberty St. bridge will land in the vehicle security center at 130 Liberty St., in the basement of what was slated to be the new JPMorgan Chase headquarters Downtown. But the contaminated Deutsche Bank building is still standing on the site, which could further delay the construction of the vehicle security center, and JPMorgan is now looking to use Bear Stearns’ trading floors rather than building new ones at the W.T.C.

The Route 9A project is on schedule, Mellett said. Stage 1, which was north of Vesey St., is complete. Stage 2, which goes south to Albany St., will be complete by July 1 or possibly earlier, he said.

The next major section of the project is the intersection of Albany and West Sts., which needs to be widened. State D.O.T. will maintain pedestrian crossings and vehicle traffic on West St. throughout the work on the intersection, which will take about 12 weeks.

When Mellett added that construction workers might do double shifts, community board members immediately wanted to know if they would be kept awake by noisy work. Mellett replied that State D.O.T. recently fitted all of their trucks with quieter backup alarms and that they would try to keep the louder operations during the day or the beginning of the second shift.

The last project Mellett mentioned was utility work on Vesey St. State D.O.T. needs to get everything from electric lines to sewer lines ready to serve the Freedom Tower and other W.T.C. buildings. The work, which will take place over 10 weeks this summer, involves a new manhole on Vesey St. at West St. and requires a crane. The construction will not disrupt traffic on Route 9A, and cars will still be able to turn southbound onto West St. from Vesey St. However, for the 10 weeks of work, cars will not be able to turn northbound onto 9A from Vesey St.

To longtime residents, the work on Route 9A seems never-ending. State D.O.T. had nearly finished overhauling the road seven years ago, when 9/11 sent them back to the starting line.

Tom Goodkind was one of several board members who just want the work to be done.

“If you guys could leave it alone for a few years, we’d be really happy,” he said.

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April 14, 2008, 2:21 pm

M.T.A. Will Expand Use of Solar Energy

By William Neuman

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority said on Monday that it will seek to become more environmentally friendly by installing solar panels to generate electricity on about two dozen buildings, including bus depots, warehouses and a bus washing facility.
The panels would generate about 1 percent of the total electricity used by the authority, officials said.

In the short term, the cost of the electricity from the panels is expected to be about double the cost of electricity that the authority currently buys from Consolidated Edison, said Ernest J. Tollerson, the authority’s director of policy. But he said that the solar cost was expected to remain steady while other energy costs rise over time.

The solar project is an early step toward a goal of using renewable energy sources to provide 7 percent of the authority’s total electricity needs by 2015. Much of that additional power would consist of energy bought from outside suppliers, like producers of wind power.

The authority announced the energy goals at a news conference at Grand Central Terminal, as it released a report by a commission established last year to recommend ways to make its operations more environmentally friendly.

Among its recommendations was to use more “green products,” like recycled paper.
The 13-page report that was given to reporters on Monday, however, was not printed on recycled paper.

“That’s a Kinko’s version,” said Mr. Tollerson, who is a former editorial writer and editor at The New York Times. He said that additional copies of the report would be produced within the coming weeks, using recycled paper and soy ink.
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Old April 16th, 2008, 11:44 PM   #111
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Queens Museum of Art 'will respect past in an up-to-date institution'


Tuesday, April 15th 2008, 4:00 AM

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Tom Finkelpearl, executive director of the Queens Museum of Art, says the museum's $47 million expansion project will "respect the past" in an "up-to-date institution."

An artist's rendering of the planned renovation to the Queens Museum of Art.

Built for the 1939 World's Fair, the New York City Building transformed several times over the years - into the United Nations headquarters in 1946, into another World's Fair pavilion in 1964 and, in 1972, into a joint art museum and ice-skating rink.

As its use changed, so did its architecture. Now, with the museum embarking on a $47 million expansion project - also billed as a partial restoration - preservationists wonder what era the unlandmarked structure should be restored to.

"You have to make it look like it transcended all the time and spaces it met the need for - for some pretty important world events," said Greg Godfrey, president of the Flushing Meadows-Corona Park World's Fair Association.

Meanwhile, Queens Museum of Art officials are moving ahead with a design that architects say will maintain the building's infrastructure without returning it to a particular time period.

The city-funded project will also double the museum's size as it takes over the ice-skating rink's 55,000 square feet.

"We're not just choosing between the histories," said Tom Finkelpearl, the museum's executive director. "We want to respect the past and have an up-to-date institution in every conceivable way."

And yet, for each historical and architectural stage in the building's past, the museum is facing pressure about what to save.

Designed by Aymar Embury II for the 1939-40 World's Fair, the classical stone-and-glass structure first featured exhibits on city agencies.

Seven decades later, it's the only building of the era remaining on the fairgrounds - site of a deadly 1940 terrorist act.

Detectives Joseph Lynch and Ferdinand Socha were killed on July 4, 1940, when a bomb they were trying to defuse exploded.

Lynch's daughter, Easter Miles, called the New York City Building the last standing tribute to her fallen dad.

"I would vote for it to be a landmark," she said.

In the next chapter in the building's history, the interior was radically gutted to create a home for the United Nations General Assembly in 1946. A vote that created the state of Israel occurred in Flushing Meadows on Nov. 29, 1947.

"It was one of the early UN buildings. There aren't that many," said Stanley Meisler, author of "United Nations: The First Fifty Years."

As part of the upcoming expansion, scheduled for completion in 2010, the museum wants to put plaques at UN-specific spots in the building, including where President Harry Truman gave an important 1946 speech on isolationism, Finkelpearl said.

Plans also call for partial restoration of a colonnade, on the museum's Unisphere side, that was intact at the 1939-40 fair and during the building's United Nations years, Finkelpearl said.

For the 1964-65 World's Fair, the structure again became a city pavilion - featuring a cross-section of cable from the Verrazano Bridge and a detailed panorama of New York City, said Bill Cotter, author of books about the fair.

During the expansion, the museum will remove bris soleil shading panels - attached before the 1964-65 fair - from its Grand Central Parkway facade, Finkelpearl said.
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Old April 20th, 2008, 09:10 PM   #112
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At a Pair of Gigantic Apartment Complexes, a Planting Project to Match

Published: April 20, 2008

Earl Wilson/The New York Times

New trees, shrubs and flowers are giving Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village an ambience that is almost suburban.

Ten thousand more trees will soon be growing in Manhattan. Give or take one or two.

Their roots will settle in the grounds of Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village, the sprawling complexes that stretch for almost 10 blocks northeast of 14th Street near the East River, in one of the largest landscaping overhauls in Manhattan’s history.

“When this project is complete,” said Erik Pauzé, the lead gardener, “we will have landscaped 60 of the 80 acres that make up these two properties.”

The project was undertaken by Tishman Speyer, the developer that bought the two apartment complexes from MetLife in October 2006, for $5.4 billion.

The work began this month and the target date for its completion is June 30, giving it an urgency that brings dozens of gardeners to the neighborhood.

“On any given day, we might have 120 people here, gardening, installing flowers, trees and sprinkler systems,” Mr. Pauzé said.

The daunting task involves 200,000 plants — including 10,000 trees, 3,123 shrubs and 120,906 perennials. It is 20 percent complete, with healthy dogwood and cherry trees already sprouting buds. Truckloads of canopy trees, perennials and shrubs will be delivered in the coming weeks.

The project is the creation of Peter Walker and Partners, a landscape architecture firm based in Berkeley, Calif.

“This is probably the largest planting project we have ever done,” Mr. Walker said. “Tishman Speyer already had quite a remarkable piece of real estate, but they brought us in to raise the bar by transforming the grounds and making the place look even more stunning.”

Combined, Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village comprise 110 buildings, each 13 or 14 stories, that stretch from 14th Street to 23rd Street, between First Avenue and Avenue C.

On Thursday, Carole Jurman, 64, sat on a shade-covered bench in Stuyvesant Town and watched several gardeners go about the business of beautifying the place she has called home for the past 37 years. Since Tishman Speyer bought the properties, rent increases, Ms. Jurman said, have forced some of the 25,000 residents, including several of her longtime friends and neighbors, to pack up and leave.

Ms. Jurman said that while she was “thrilled to see all the wonderful planting,” she was saddened that so many families had to move, and that they will not be around to smell the roses, not to mention the magnolias and skip laurels, when they bloom.

“I feel bad for all of them,” said Ms. Jurman, who lives in a rent-stabilized apartment but would not reveal how much she paid. “There’s almost no place left for middle-class families to live in New York. It’s a terrible situation.”

George R. Hatzmann, a managing director of Tishman Speyer who is overseeing the landscape project, said, “Rent increases are a part of life in the city, but we do our best to stay consistent with market prices.”

Mr. Hatzmann said that 40,000 annuals and 100 hanging flower baskets would be in place by May 11, Mother’s Day. But he would not divulge the amount of money that Tishman Speyer is spending on the project.

“It’s a significant price, but it’s well worth it because it enhances quality of life and makes this a better place to live,” he said during a walking tour on Thursday. “It’s a great way to enhance the look of the property for the people who live here, and for people who might live here in the future.”

Dr. Bianca Alfonso, 35, who practices internal medicine at nearby Beth Israel Medical Center, moved into a two-bedroom apartment in Stuyvesant Town last year. She, too, declined to reveal how much rent she paid, but called her new neighborhood “the best-kept secret in New York.”

“It’s really the best of both worlds,” said Dr. Alfonso, who is married with two small children. “Once you’re in here, surrounded by all of the parks and the beautiful landscaping, you feel as though you’re living in the suburbs. But when it’s time to go to work, you just step outside, and you’re back in busy downtown Manhattan.”

Matthew Donham, an associate landscape architect, said that “one of the biggest challenges regarding this project is making sure that whatever we plant in large masses holds up against the scale of these buildings.”

Mr. Donham stopped to point out a spot in Stuyvesant Town where double rows of oak trees would soon be planted. “Depth and contrast with different sized plants and an assortment of colors is what works best on the eye,” he said.

He said that the enormousness of the project meant his company had to buy stock from nurseries across the country. The ginkgo and sweet gum trees, for example, came from Oregon.

“We made a lot of nurseries very happy,” Mr. Donham said.
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Old April 24th, 2008, 12:01 AM   #113
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Judge Blocks Overhaul of Union Square Park

Published: April 23, 2008

A state judge has temporarily blocked the Parks and Recreation Department from continuing its $21 million overhaul of the north end of Union Square Park.

The project, which includes installing a new restaurant in the park’s pavilion, has been opposed by various neighborhood groups, which say the establishment of a privately owned restaurant would be an illegal use of public parkland.

A temporary restraining order, issued Monday afternoon by Justice John E. H. Stackhouse of State Supreme Court in Manhattan, prohibits the city “from engaging in any physical destruction, site preparation and/or construction” relating to the renovation.

The judge’s order was issued in response to a lawsuit filed by Geoffrey Croft, president of NYC Park Advocates; the Union Square Park Community Coalition, a neighborhood group; Carol Greitzer, a former councilwoman; and others.

Justice Stackhouse set a hearing for Monday to determine whether to issue a preliminary injunction, which would prevent the parks department from performing work in the park for a longer period.

Workers started site work at the park several days ago. On Tuesday, hours after the restraining order was issued, a backhoe sat idle in the park’s north plaza, its arm resting atop a large mound of dirt. Equipment from two of the park’s three playgrounds had already been removed.

A parks department spokeswoman declined to comment on Tuesday.

But in a statement, Ramin Pejan, a lawyer at the city’s Law Department, said that the Bloomberg administration would eventually prevail.

“The city is confident in its legal position and the merits of this project, which include a redesigned and dramatically expanded playground and a rehabilitated historic pavilion and plaza that was supported by the community board and approved by the Art Commission,” Mr. Pejan said.

The dispute over Union Square, one of the city’s most popular public spaces, is the latest in a series of disagreements between the parks department and neighborhood groups over changes to local parks that have ended in lawsuits and protracted court battles.

In January, ruling on a lawsuit by community groups, Justice Shirley Kornreich of State Supreme Court in Manhattan ordered the department to void a $45 million deal between the agency and 20 private schools to build sports fields on Randalls Island, at the confluence of the East and Harlem Rivers.

Justice Kornreich determined that the department had failed to properly follow city and state competitive-bidding and public-review rules.

At Union Square Park, proposed changes include the new restaurant, the redesign of two playgrounds and the repaving of asphalt where a popular greenmarket has been situated for several years. The plan also calls for about 14 trees to be cut down.

The work had been scheduled to be completed before the end of next year, according to the parks department’s Web site.

The Union Square lawsuit maintains that the city failed to get the approval of the State Legislature before deciding to place a restaurant in the park.

State law requires that when the public use of a park or section of park is changed to a nonpark use, the change must be approved by state government.

On Tuesday, opponents of the redesign said the judge’s decision was a first step.

“The temporary restraining order is a small but important step in the right direction,” said Assemblyman Richard N. Gottfried, whose district borders Union Square. “They are taking away a piece of the park. You wouldn’t use the park for a bookstore or a shoe shop, and you shouldn’t use it for a restaurant.”

Mr. Croft said the Union Square area, which has become home to many young families in recent years, needs more playgrounds for children.

“The city is taking away thousands of square feet of potential play space in an area with the lowest amount of play space in the city and one of the highest concentration of restaurants,” he said.
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Old April 25th, 2008, 03:40 AM   #114
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Abandoned Neponsit health center fixed


Tuesday, April 22nd 2008, 4:00 AM

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Neponsit Property Owners Association President Peter Sammon (l.) and former head Mike O’Connor long have railed against center abandoned 10 years ago (below).

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It has been nearly 10 years since residents of the Neponsit Health Care Center were evacuated in the dead of night and the building was abandoned.

Since then, the facility and the surrounding 6-acre property have become an eyesore in the posh beachfront community.

But after years of neglect, the city Health and Hospitals Corp. recently spent $1 million to clean up debris around the complex, install new fences and board up broken windows.

The recent work raised hopes that something was finally happening with the prime chunk of real estate.

But even though the city is shelling out $127,000 a year for its upkeep, officials said there are still no plans for the World War I-era complex.

“The city has abandoned the community on this issue,” said Mike O’Connor, former head of the Neponsit Property Owners Association. “These buildings look like something you’d see in the Rust Belt - abandoned brick buildings with big smokestacks.”

In September 1998, city officials claimed the facility was in danger of imminent collapse and forced 279 patients to leave in the middle of the night.

The patients, many of whom suffered from dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, were shuttled off to other hospitals around the city. Two of them died in the days following the evacuation.

“It was just chaos,” said Legal Aid attorney April Neubauer, who represented the patients. “Before any notice was given to the residents - which was required by law - they were told to pack their bags and get out."

HHC officials had proposed a $3.5 million upgrade of the facility earlier in 1998, but a powerful Labor Day storm damaged the exterior of the building and derailed those plans.

"According to [former Mayor] Rudy Giuliani, the building was in imminent danger of falling down," said Community Board 14 District Manager Jonathan Gaska. "The building could take a [hit from a] cruise missile and still stand."

The city Buildings Department never inspected the facility before it was shuttered. Neubauer got an injunction in October 1998 to prevent its demolition.

Shortly after, the federal Health Care Financing Administration said the building's structural defects did not warrant emergency evacuation - and fined the HHC $450,000.

"We asked HHC to reopen it but they claimed they didn't have the funds to do so," said Democratic district leader Lew Simon.

In 2003, the city agreed to pay $5 million in an out-of-court settlement to the displaced patients or their estates.

Among the proposals floated during a series of 2006 hearings were turning it into a rehabilitation center for wounded veterans or a children's hospital, but nothing has gotten off the ground. One concrete result was the allocation of funds for the recent improvements.

"The city has not made a final determination," said HHC spokesman James Saunders of the property's future.

"The building is still under our jurisdiction," Saunders added, noting HHC spends $127,000 a year for security and maintenance of the facility.

A covenant in the deed states the land can be used only for a park or a public health facility and that only an act of the state Legislature can rezone the property.

Local real estate agents said the property could fetch $40 million on the open market.

"We believe the first step is the demolition of the buildings," O'Connor said. "They're really a blight."
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Old April 25th, 2008, 03:42 AM   #115
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For Bronx Water Plant Being Built 10 Stories Down, a Towering Price Tag

Published: April 24, 2008

Suzanne DeChillo/The New York Times

Work continues for an underground water filtration plant in the Bronx.

In a city of big projects, it ranks among the biggest. New York City’s Department of Environmental Protection is building one of the largest water filtration plants in the world in a 10-story-deep hole it blasted out of bedrock in the Bronx. When completed in 2012, the plant, capable of purifying 300 million gallons of water a day, will be buried there.

But the plant, which will filter water from the Croton watershed in Westchester County, is no Bronx treasure chest. Even as construction moves forward, questions about soaring costs and delays continue to plague the project.

The cost is now estimated at nearly $3 billion, a huge jump from the $660 million city officials estimated when they announced an audacious plan in 1998 to build the plant below the surface of Van Cortlandt Park. They vowed that the park would be made as good as new, even if that meant replacing whatever was lost during construction. They now plan to rebuild a driving range on top of the buried plant.

Some officials and others fear the final tab could climb even higher, and in the process push up water rates. On April 1, the city comptroller, William C. Thompson Jr., announced that he was starting an independent audit to determine whether city officials understated the original price, to get the plant built in the Bronx rather than Westchester. Besides scrutinizing the complicated accounting, Mr. Thompson will have to sort through accusations by some residents and officials of deliberate distortions of costs, and intimations that the project has been tainted by mob influence, though nothing has been proved.

His would not be the first effort at monitoring the expenses since work on the big hole began in late 2004. The city’s Independent Budget Office examined the project and came up with a cost estimate last September of $2.8 billion, significantly higher than the Bloomberg administration’s last previous estimate of $2.1 billion. The budget office is now comparing its cost estimate with the city’s earlier projections and is expected to report on it in the next few months.

The city’s Department of Investigation hired a law firm, Stier Anderson L.L.C., last year to monitor the progress of the construction. The law firm is now affiliated with Thacher Associates, a fraud detection company. Keith Schwam, a spokesman for the department, said the firm was keeping track “of various contractors, subcontractors and personnel” at the Bronx site.

While the plant’s opponents concede that it is too late to stop the work in Van Cortlandt Park, they say that shining more light on the project’s financing will reveal whether there was any wrongdoing in the site selection process.

“We were blindsided by the whole thing,” said Karen Argenti, a resident of the Bronx and a longtime opponent of the project. She, like many other residents, says that city officials deliberately underestimated costs to make it seem that building the plant underground in the Bronx would be cheaper than building it above ground on land the city owns in Westchester.

“Intuitively, no one ever believed that it could be cheaper to dig a huge hole and build it here,” said Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz of the Bronx, who for more than a decade has fought against putting the plant in the borough. “When we look back at this project years from now, it will rank up there with the Tweed Courthouse as a monument to municipal incompetence and worse.”

City officials say the original figure of $660 million was the “roughest of estimates” and should not be used in any evaluation of true costs. They say the starting point should be the $992 million that was included in the project’s final environmental impact statement in 2003.

“I can understand how this comes as almost a surprise,” said Steven W. Lawitts, first deputy commissioner of environmental protection.

“Unless you spend a good part of your time tracking this market, tracking the trends,” he continued, “it comes across as, and often is portrayed as, the D.E.P. underestimated the project.”

Mr. Lawitts said the $992 million estimate was in 2003 dollars, not adjusted for inflation, and was labeled as such in the document.

But in several places, the final environmental report, available on the department’s Web site, clearly states that the $992 million estimated cost of building the filtration plant in the park was “based on a 2.75 percent annual inflation rate.” Community residents have accused city officials of deliberately misleading the public with contradictory explanations.

Mr. Lawitts said the $992 million construction cost was, in fact, not adjusted for inflation. The annual inflation rate of 2.75 percent was applied to the cost of operating the plant over 30 years. He did concede that charts in the 2003 statement were confusing and that the footnote about the inflation rate was misplaced.

But the inflation factor does not fully explain the cost increases. The city’s explanation, outlined in several meetings with Bronx residents in the past year, is that the cost of concrete, steel and other raw materials, and the cost of labor, have gone up by as much as 14 percent since the environmental statement was completed.

Mr. Lawitts said that the city has continually updated its estimates, but that no one anticipated the building boom for big projects in the metropolitan region, like the sports stadiums under construction, which has driven up the prices of materials. With four more years of construction ahead, the costs may well continue to rise above even the best estimates now.

On the nine-acre construction site, a vast amphitheater has been blasted out of an ancient stone called Fordham gneiss (pronounced nice), which now forms the pit’s 10-story-high walls. Trucks carrying concrete — behemoths when they rumble through city streets — look like toys inside the pit. The pipe that will bring in untreated water from the Croton reservoir system is 12 feet in diameter. The two outflow pipes have 9-foot diameters. The water will be purified in a “stacked dissolved air flotation system”; that, said the project manager, Bernard J. Daly, is standard technology and uses several layers of filters to remove impurities, but is being done here on a gigantic scale.

The city was forced to build the plant because water from the Croton watershed did not meet federal standards for safety and purity. Although the Croton system can supply nearly 30 percent of the city’s 1.1 billion gallons a day of drinking water, generally it supplies just 10 percent, mostly in the Bronx and northern Manhattan. The rest of the city’s water comes from the Catskill Mountains and the Delaware River, and is so clean that the city last year won a 10-year exemption from federal regulations requiring that all surface drinking water be filtered.

Opponents of the Bronx plant have also expressed concern about the federal indictment in February of a key manager for the Schiavone Construction Company, which was the principal contractor responsible for digging the pit and putting in the water tunnels. The company’s offices were raided by federal agents, who seized files, and the manager, Anthony Delvescovo, was charged with having committed extortion beginning in February 2005 — around the time that work was beginning on the Croton project.

Mr. Delvescovo’s lawyer, Avi Moskowitz, said he would fight the charges. “The government has produced hundreds and hundreds of hours of consensually recorded conversation, none of which involve him, and we expect that at the end of the day, when he has his day in court, he will be completely exonerated,” Mr. Moskowitz said.

Officials say the indictment of Mr. Delvescovo has not had any effect on the project, and the Schiavone company continues to work on the tunnels.

Mr. Dinowitz has called for an independent investigation by the Bronx district attorney and others into every aspect of the filtration plant, saying the cost of the project has a direct impact on water rates. Officials announced this month that they would ask for a rate increase of 14.5 percent, higher than expected, to take effect July 1.

“There may be nothing here, but it smells,” the assemblyman said. “And the people who in the end are going to have to pay the price are the ratepayers.”
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Old April 26th, 2008, 04:54 AM   #116
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Volume 20, Number 50 | THE NEWSPAPER OF LOWER MANHATTAN | APRIL 25 - MAY 1, 2008

City to begin search for E. River waterfront operators

By Clark Merrefield and Julie Shapiro

Underneath the fume-laden FDR Drive near Rutgers Slip, the city is planning two new pavilions where ping-pong, aerobics, tango and karate could become the norm.

The community-centric outdoor plazas would be added to the promenade that winds along Manhattan’s southeastern shoreline, amid the thump of vehicles speeding over expansion joints. On the current promenade, groups of Chinese and Hispanic men fish, young professionals jog and skateboarders practice their ollies. Most simply sit on the wood-and-metal benches and gaze at the Manhattan Bridge and Brooklyn’s northwestern shore.

Renderings by the city’s Economic Development Corporation show a similar promenade alongside the proposed pavilions, which are part of the East River Waterfront Access project. Community Board 3’s Waterfront Subcommittee overwhelmingly supports using the pavilions for dance, exercise and recreation, according to an E.D.C. report issued at a public meeting earlier this month.

“We need the waterfront for everyone in this community,” Winiford Schuchman, a local resident, said at the subcommittee’s April 8 meeting.

The definition of who exactly will be part of ‘the community’ in coming years needs to be considered, pointed out Laurel May Turbin, waterfront coordinator for CAAAV: Organizing Asian Communities.

“What’s happening is that the city is really leading the development that’s happening throughout the city, especially in the Lower East Side and Chinatown,” she noted.

This development is changing the demographics of these traditionally immigrant communities, and calls into question who will use the pavilions, Turbin said.

In June, E.D.C. will determine interest and, through a request for proposals, or R.F.P., solicit ideas for the pavilions that are designed for nonprofit, community use. Preference will be given to Lower East Side nonprofit groups. By summer or fall of next year, a bidder will be selected and by summer 2010 the completed pavilions will be open to the public.

The E.D.C. came to Community Board 1’s Waterfront Committee this week to give updates on two additional pavilions: the one near Maiden Lane and South St. and the one on Pier 15.

The 3,300-square-foot pavilion on Pier 15 will focus on maritime education, said Scott Barnholt, who is working on the pavilions for E.D.C. He expects the E.D.C. to release a request for expressions of interest, or R.F.E.I., this summer, which will be due in fall 2008. The E.D.C. prefers non-profits with experience providing maritime education programs. Barnholt hopes the programs in the pavilion will pay for the pavilion’s operation, but he does not expect the operators to have additional revenue to give the E.D.C. to support the esplanade as a whole.

“We hope [the maritime pavilion] will create a node of activity to attract people to the pier,” Barnholt said.

If the E.D.C. wants to see more detailed plans, they may issue an R.F.P. for the pavilion in spring 2009 that would be due that summer. Then they would select an operator by fall 2009, close the following spring and allow the operator to start construction in the summer of 2010. Barnholt expects the maritime education center to begin operating by late 2010 or early 2011.

Leaders of the South Street Seaport Museum have repeatedly said they have a historic right to the pier and expect to operate the educational programs there, but it looks like they will have to submit the R.F.E.I. along with any other interested operators. Barnholt would not name any specific nonprofits with which he had discussed the pavilion.

The design for Pier 15 has been the most controversial element of the East River Waterfront plan at C.B. 1. The redesign of Pier 15 is still under review by the Arts Commission, Barnholt said.

The E.D.C. will also release an R.F.P. for the 5,600-square-foot pavilion just to the south of the intersection of Maiden Lane and South St. Barnholt expects a commercial tenant to operate that pavilion and pay rent to the E.D.C., money that would support the rest of the waterfront.

Some examples of uses the E.D.C. would consider include a dance studio, a restaurant, a performance space, a gallery and a specialty retail shop. In response to a board member’s question, Barnholt said he would not consider a cell phone store, no matter how much revenue it could bring the park.

The E.D.C. will release the R.F.P. for the Maiden Lane pavilion this summer and select an operator by next spring. Barnholt hopes the operator could begin fitting out the pavilion in spring 2010 and open it that summer.

There are seven pavilions in the East River Waterfront project, with staggered R.F.P.s and opening dates, Barnholt said.

At an earlier, Jan. 15 C.B. 3 meeting, some residents said they were worried the pavilions would be used as office space. E.D.C. officials refuted this concern.

“[The pavilions] will never be an office for any agency,” the agency’s Nicole Dooskin said at the April 8 C.B. 3 meeting. “This is not meant to be a not-for-profit’s office.”

In addition to recreation, residents have asked that the pavilions be used for education and general social interaction.

“Various uses were proposed, including miniature golf, a bike rental space, a food court, a skating rink and space available for functions, such as weddings and parties,” E.D.C.’s report said.

But some are skeptical that the city will follow through on its promise to keep the pavilions open to the community.

“The devil is in the details,” said Laine Romero-Alston, who works with a coalition of community groups called O.U.R. Waterfront. “The renderings are nice and pretty and beautiful, but what’s going to happen, what’s going to go in there, is what’s to be seen.”
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Old April 30th, 2008, 03:22 AM   #117
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Housing Authority has a bright idea for saving millions


Tuesday, April 29th 2008, 4:00 AM

The city's public housing is getting greener and it's all starting at Queensbridge Houses in Long Island City.

Residents of the city Housing Authority's developments began receiving nearly 10,000 energy-efficient compact fluorescent light bulbs on Monday to save energy.

It is the first phase of a project that officials expect to eventually implement in all 343 city-run housing developments.

Plans call for an average of six incandescent light bulbs per unit to be exchanged for energy-efficient fluorescent bulbs, which use about one-quarter the amount of electricity and last 10 times longer.

Most of the new bulbs will be used at Queensbridge South.

When the lights at Queensbridge North are also replaced, a total of 18,852 fluorescent bulbs are expected to make the two developments a bit more green.

"That is a lot of light bulbs," said NYCHA board member Margarita Lopez, who is overseeing the project.

The financial savings and the environmental gains of installing the fluorescent bulbs at Queensbridge are significant, Lopez said.

Currently, NYCHA spends more than $7.4 million a year on electricity at Queensbridge North and South.

The energy-efficient bulbs will reduce overall electricity costs by 17%, she said.

"Once we finish this, we will continue until we finish all of our 343 developments," Lopez said.

The Housing Authority is waiting for final approval from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to move forward with the program, said NYCHA spokesman Howard Marder.

Plans also call for the creation of 10 "green-collar" jobs - including six from Queensbridge Houses.

In addition to promoting the program to residents, the green-collar workers will also change the bulbs and install light fixtures that would prevent incandescent bulbs from being used in the future, Lopez said.

As the program spreads, similar jobs will be created throughout the city, she said.

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Old April 30th, 2008, 03:29 AM   #118
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CHANGE OF ADDRESS: Workers survey and transport parts of the house on 141st Street where Alexander Hamilton lived. It will be moved around the corner and restored.

CHANGE OF ADDRESS: Workers survey and transport parts of the house on 141st Street where Alexander Hamilton lived. It will be moved around the corner and restored.

Alexander Hamilton

April 28, 2008 -- Alexander Hamilton's Manhattan home has come close to suffering a fate similar to that of its famed owner over the years.

But instead of getting killed off, the historic 1802 house is about to be nursed back to glorious health.

Few visit Hamilton Grange at its current location on Convent Avenue and 141st Street - and many New Yorkers are not even aware it exists.

But National Park Service officials say that will all change in June, when the 18-room home is removed from the location where it was cast aside in 1893 to make way for the street grid in Hamilton Heights.

Crews are preparing to lift the building up 45 feet so that it can be moved past the neighboring St. Luke's Episcopal Church.

It will then be transported around the corner to the 141st Street side of St. Nicholas Park.

"The beauty is that it will still be on what was Hamilton's land," said Stephen Spaulding, chief of architectural preservation for the Park Service.

After conducting extensive research and a forensic investigation of the construction to determine the original layout and design of the home, Spaulding said the agency hopes to restore it to its former luster so it can become a museum and memorial in 2009.

Hamilton built the Grange - the first and only home he ever owned - after he had mostly retired from public life.

He designed it around the same time he was founding the New York Post, with the help of architect John McComb, Jr., the man behind City Hall.

Hamilton only enjoyed the home for two years. He slept there - or perhaps tossed and turned there - the night before he was killed in his duel with Aaron Burr.

When the home was given to the church as part of a deal in the 1890s, its porches, original front door and staircase were either removed or reconfigured.

The city granted an easement to the National Park Service to allow the house to be moved onto its parkland, in what Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe described as a complicated legal agreement that took years to hammer out.

"St. Nicholas Park has come a long way, but we are enthusiastic that the move of the house will bring a steady stream of visitors into a part of the park which is not all that heavily used," he said.
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Old May 7th, 2008, 04:40 AM   #119
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New Ferry Service Will Begin Next Week

Published: May 6, 2008

A subsidized ferry route between southern Queens and Lower Manhattan, via Brooklyn, will begin next week to give commuters another option, the mayor and the City Council announced on Monday.

The two-year pilot Rockaway Service, which will be run by New York Water Taxi, will be financed using $1.1 million allocated by the City Council.

The new route, which begins on May 12, will run from Riis Landing in Far Rockaway, Queens, to the Brooklyn Army Terminal to Pier 11 at Wall Street. It will run twice a day in each direction: 5:45 a.m. and 7:45 a.m. from Far Rockaway, and 4:30 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. from Lower Manhattan. The trip will take about one hour each way. The cost will be $6 per trip.

Separately, New York Water Taxi will restart East River ferry service next month from Pier 11 and 34th Street to Long Island City, Queens, which it suspended in January because of lack of passengers and rising fuel costs. Service to South Williamsburg, Brooklyn, will be restored when a new $1.25 million city-financed launch center being built at Schaefer Landing is completed, Water Taxi officials said in a statement.

Expanded East River ferry service is expected to begin in two years, city officials said.

“As our waterfront becomes even more dynamic with new housing and open space in communities like Greenpoint, Williamsburg and Hunters Point, ferries are going to become an even bigger part of our city’s transportation network,” Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg said on Monday during a news conference at Brooklyn Army Terminal.

Besides expanding ferry service, the Department of Transportation will also be building a docking operation at 34th Street, where it will inaugurate faster bus service to get commuters quickly from the dock to their desks, said Janette Sadik-Khan, the transportation commissioner.
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Old May 7th, 2008, 04:50 AM   #120
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May 6, 2008, 12:37 pm

Let 28,300 Trees Bloom

By David W. Dunlap

This fairly sparse area in front of the Thomas Jefferson Houses on East 112th Street is to get three scholar trees, two northern red oaks and five London plane trees. (Photo: David W. Dunlap/The New York Times)

Updated, 5:52 p.m. | O.K. So two generous guys named Bloomberg and Rockefeller pledge $10 million between them to plant about 18,300 street trees under the Million Trees NYC initiative. What do you plant? And where?

First, the where. New York City Housing Authority developments will get about 10,700 trees. Playgrounds and school properties will get about 5,600. And other public lands will get about 2,000.

Now, the what.

“Our priority is to maximize the benefit of trees,” said Jennifer Greenfeld, acting director of Million Trees NYC, director of the street-tree planting program in the Department of Parks and Recreation and co-editor of “New York City Trees” (Columbia University Press, 2002).

“What really gives us benefits are leaves,” she said. “The greater the canopy, the greater the environmental benefit.”

Ms. Greenfeld said that large canopies help cool the streets and thereby reduce the creation of ground-level ozone. Leaves also help trap particulate matter. “Everything comes back to the leaf area,” she said.

Last month, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and David Rockefeller planted a redbud (Cercis canadensis) at the Thomas Jefferson Houses in East Harlem as they announced their joint pledge of $10 million to the tree campaign. (See the plans for the Thomas Jefferson Houses in East Harlem [pdf]).

Godrul Allah Harrison, who lives in the Jefferson Houses and performs with the Harlem 6 hip-hop group, was inspired enough by the pending planting that he began to compose lyrics on the spot, while talking with City Room: “Without trees, we can’t breathe / Without trees, we can’t breathe.” Not everyone, however, has shared his enthusiasm about Million Trees NYC.

Although the Jefferson grounds are already quite verdant, there are notable bald spots. One runs along East 112th Street, just west of First Avenue. There, the city plans to plant three scholartrees (Sophora japonica), two northern red oaks (Quercus rubra) and five London plane trees (Platanus x acerifolia).

This marks a bit of a departure from recent planting philosophy, which discouraged London planes because they had been overplanted. Otherwise, Ms. Greenfeld said, they make terrific street trees. “London planes far surpass any other species,” she said. “They have great leaf area and they are very tolerant of urban conditions.”

Other favorites, she said, include the tuliptree or tulip poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera); the bald cypress (Taxodium distichum); the beech tree (either Fagus grandifolia or Fagus sylvatica), when there’s enough room; the sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua), though some people object to the spiky seed balls that litter the ground in fall; and the horsechestnut (Aesculus hipposcastanum), which needs a grassy area around it and can’t be planted at curbside.

And, she added, “The oaks just come up again and again.”

A fairly new contender, Ms. Greenfeld added, is the rose lantern variety of goldenraintree (Koelreuteria paniculata).

And what do you plant under the worst conditions the city can dish up?

“The honey locust is our tree of last resort,” Ms. Greenfeld said. “It is an absolute survivor. And the ginkgo is an amazing survivor, but it doesn’t have a great canopy.” She found a ginkgo once in Manhattan that had been surrounded by paving right up to its trunk, yet managed to endure. (She liberated it from its masonry collar.)
Joyce Kilmer notwithstanding, are there foolish trees?

“We don’t plant and we don’t recommend Norway or silver maples,” Ms. Greenfeld said. “They are very weak wooded. They have very shallow roots. Silver maples grow fast and put on wood quickly. They tend to fall apart more quickly. The Norway maple is very invasive. They escape into natural woodlands and have such a dense shade that nothing can grow around them.”

The Bradford pear is handsome, disease free and pollution tolerant. It laughs at compacted soil and salt runoff. It flowers gorgeously white in spring and greets autumn by turning dark scarlet or purple. Unfortunately, Ms. Greenfeld said, it also has a “very tight branch attachment, so all the branches come in at one point.” As a result, she said, “They split apart in storms after 15 or 20 years.” The city no longer plants them.

Mayor Bloomberg, by the way, has already practiced what he preaches. Immediately outside his town house on the Upper East Side are two Japanese maples, tentatively identified (through photos) as coral bark maples (Acer palmatum “Sango kaku”) by Jessica Arcate, curator of woody plants at the New York Botanical Garden. And the house sits behind the canopy of two curbside littleleaf lindens (Tilia cordata). Four trees, in all. Not bad for an 18-foot lot.

Today, Mr. Bloomberg and Mr. Rockefeller were joined as donors by the Police — Sting, Andy Summers and Stewart Copeland — who pledged $1 million to Million Trees NYC as they announced that their final concert would be held in New York City. Their donation will be matched by the city, for a total of $2 million.

City officials estimate that will yield 10,000 trees. On the face of it, this sounds like a much better value than the deal described in the post above (18,300 trees for $10 million). A parks spokeswoman explained that the Police pledge will go mainly to reforestation of parkland, which is far less labor intensive and logistically complicated — and therefore quite a bit cheaper — than street-tree plantings.
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