Manhattan community calls on Hochul to let expert panel revise Wagner Park Resiliency Plan

The New York City Resiliency Plan has been under scrutiny from the broad lower Manhattan community and The Battery Park City Neighborhood Association, who have asked New York Governor Kathy Hochul to revise the plan for Robert F. Wagner Jr. Park under the direction of a team of experts in conjunction with the community and other stakeholders. 

In a letter sent Sept. 23 to Gov. Hochul, the BPCNA expressed their interest “to develop a revised Robert F. Wagner Jr. Park design that both protects from climate change risk and preserves the character and cultural significance of this park and its relationship to Battery Park City and all of New York.” 

The original design contained plans to demolish the 3.5-acres of Wagner Park and called for a $221 million makeover. The May 2022 Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) planned for Wagner Park to hold a total of 17, 250 square feet of greenspace. According to the BPCNA website, the park would lose “over approximately 50% of the lawn space in the name of resiliency.” 

In response to the push for minimal impact to the community, preservation of existing park space and leveraging nature-based solutions, the BPCA announced a revision in the resiliency plans for Wagner park on Aug. 16. The revision included additional lawn space and trees totaling an added 12,800 square feet to their design plans. 

The original 17,250 square feet of greenspace revised to 30,050 square feet is still under the greenspace that Wagner Park holds today. As of the September 2022 Community Board 1 update, there are 33,750 square feet of greenspace in Wagner Park. 

The BPCNA has been asking and continues to ask for a better design plan for the park. In 2017, CB1 wrote a resolution questioning the Perkins Eastman Plan for Wagner Park, in particular, why the existing structure must be replaced with a new pavilion, what the expansion of commercial elements within the park will do and how the costly funding that the plan required will be raised. Additional CB1 resolutions were written in 2017, 2018, 2020 and 2022.    

The BPCNA has now put together a team of experts which includes Dr. Kledja Bega, science lecturer at Columbia University; Lucinda Sanders, CEO of Olin, the original landscape designer for Wagner Park; Eric T. Fleisher, of F2 Environmental Design and former Director of Horticulture for the Battery Park City Conservancy; and Jeffry Burchard, an Assistant Professor in the practice of architecture at Harvard University and a Partner at Machado Silvetti, the original architects of Wagner Park’s current award-winning pavilion. These experts are working on creating an alternative design for the park. 

“We applaud these experts who have come together to support our neighborhood’s efforts to create a better plan that uses nature to prevent and protect from climate risk. The question has never been about whether to do a resiliency project. It has always been about the design and approach that is being taken in this project,” said Britni Erez, a BPC resident and BPCNA Board member who has been spearheading efforts to get a better resiliency plan for Wagner Park. “Wagner Park needs the best thinking possible and should include the latest innovations in resiliency and water management.”

The design used within the north and west Battery Park City resiliency project prioritized greenspace and nature-based protective designs, which the BPCNA praised. 

“Those are the same principles we want to see here,” says Kelly McGowan, also a BPCNA Board member and resident of BPC for over 30 years. “These experts know we can do better than the plan we have, which is reducing green space by about 10% and increasing commercial space. You just have to look at the damage by Hurricane Ian in Florida to understand that the Authority’s plan to build more commercial space as a means to protect from flooding is not the best way to make us more resilient. Hopefully, the governor will see that, too.”