NYCEDC is supporting the continued resurgence of this key Lower Manhattan district through a series of related initiatives.
With public, private, and civic partners, NYCEDC is pursuing a multipronged strategy to strengthen Water Street’s position as a thriving destination for a robust and diversified base of office tenants as well as residents and visitors.
Water Street is one of the most important commercial districts in Lower Manhattan. Spanning more than half a mile from Whitehall Street to Fulton Street, its high-rise buildings are the “front row” of Lower Manhattan’s iconic skyline and contain over 19 million square feet of Class A and B+ office space (almost one-fifth of Lower Manhattan’s total office stock). The district is home to large, mid-sized, and small companies that, combined, employ over 100,000 people, as well as a growing residential population.
Water Street is close to some of the city’s most exciting amenities, including the East River Waterfront Esplanade, the East River Ferry at Pier 11, the Fulton Center transit hub, South Street Seaport, and Stone Street’s outdoor cafés (see map). Water Street is also characterized by a large concentration of privately owned public spaces (POPS), such as plazas and pedestrian arcades.
The Water Street Strategy seeks to create a green, pedestrian-friendly streetscape along the corridor that not only better connects to Lower Manhattan’s cultural, transit, and open space assets, but also provides new opportunities to shop, work, and socialize. The strategy builds on significant planning work done recently by NYCEDC, the City of New York, and key local organizations such as the Alliance for Downtown New York (ADNY), which manages the local business improvement district. As ADNY highlighted in its 2010 report Water Street: A New Approach, an attractive and engaging public realm is essential to ensuring that Water Street remains competitive in the years ahead.
The strategy’s success is founded on collaboration between NYCEDC, City agencies, local organizations, and Water Street property owners. As described below, the strategy starts with activation of the district's POPS through free public events and programming, continues with public right-of-way streetscape improvements, and is strengthened by POPS enhancements through the Upgrades Initiative. Combined, these three strategic elements focus on improving the public realm to unlock potential and enhance the district’s competitiveness.
Water Street’s many plazas, pedestrian arcades, and other POPS are distributed across 19 buildings and collectively comprise over seven acres of privately owned public space—an area larger than Washington Square Park. As a result, POPS play a major role in defining the character, feel, and perception of the district and present a unique opportunity to transform underutilized and underperforming public spaces into attractive amenities for the area's employees, residents, and visitors.
In Summer 2013, NYCEDC launched Water Street Pops!, a series of free public events and activities to enliven the Water Street district after Hurricane Sandy. Located in POPS along Water Street, the event series included dance and musical performances, food markets, cultural exhibits, sand sculptures, family activities, and more.
In June 2013, the City Council approved a zoning text amendment proposed by the NYC Department of City Planning that expressly allowed, on a temporary basis, events and amenities in Water Street’s POPS. The successful summer programming, which ran from July 1 through Labor Day across seven different POPS, included nearly 200 events and attracted over 50,000 participants. Building on this success, the Water Street Pops! Winter Festival offered similar programming in the POPS from December 1-13.
Beginning in Summer 2013, NYCEDC and the NYC Department of City Planning, working closely with ADNY and a team of architects and planners, began the Water Street POPS Upgrades Initiative to encourage and facilitate comprehensive upgrades to such spaces. The initiative identified a set of design strategies for potential POPS improvements, including greening, new retail, and informal spaces for collaboration. The initiative also analyzed the financial feasibility of implementing potential upgrades.
The project team presented recommendations to Water Street property owners in November 2013. At present, the City is in discussions with interested owners and other local stakeholders and developing a framework that will address zoning challenges and enable implementation of the recommended design strategies.
Long crossing distances, poor connections to the waterfront, and an uninviting pedestrian environment could hurt the district’s ability to attract and retain businesses, as well as serve its growing residential population. To address these issues, NYCEDC working with the NYC Department of Transportation (NYCDOT) and in consultation with community stakeholders, will implement a package of streetscape improvements along Water Street.
Building on short-term improvements that NYCDOT implemented in Summer 2013, the project aims to improve pedestrian safety along the Water Street corridor while making aesthetic improvements, providing new amenities, and strengthening connections to the waterfront. Additionally, the project will incorporate green infrastructure elements such as bioswales and permeable paving where feasible to improve the district’s ability to handle intense storm events.
NYCEDC has issued a Request for Proposals (RFP) for a consultant team to design the streetscape improvements. The design process is expected to commence in mid-2014 and conclude later this year.