The owner of a downtown strip club wants the city, somebody, anybody, to spruce up his neighborhood. His business improvement district, the Alliance for Downtown New York, is taking up the cause.
The alliance is releasing a study Tuesday that recommends a series of changes in the area of Lower Manhattan directly south of the World Trade Center site, an area shaken hard by ground zero construction and the recession.
“No business can survive,” said Robert Kremer, the owner of the Pussycat Lounge, a topless bar on Greenwich Street. Mr. Kremer’s main concern is actually not the economy, but the congested streets bounded by Broadway, West Street, Battery Park and the World Trade Center site, an area that the Downtown Alliance calls Greenwich South. Access to businesses is nearly impossible, he said.
Improving access is the main goal of the Downtown Alliance’s plan. It proposes opening Greenwich Street from the Battery all the way up to the High Line. This would involve punching through an existing pedestrian plaza and allowing some type of travel through the World Trade Center site. (In 1966, the Port Authority severed Greenwich Street to build the trade center.)
“We want to connect this part of Lower Manhattan to the rest of Lower Manhattan,” said Elizabeth H. Berger, president of the Alliance for Downtown New York. With a realignment of Greenwich Street, new planters and patio chairs, a rezoning proposal and a huge park, the alliance plans to attract more shoppers, residents and developers.
“It’s a different kind of central business district, where commercial activity is supported by residential life and tourism,” Ms. Berger said.
Besides connecting the area with the World Trade Center tourists and workers, the alliance recommends a new zoning district to encourage high-density, mixed-use development. The zoning change would allow the city and state to sell air rights from the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel approach and two adjacent garage owned by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to developers, who would then build on other neighborhood sites.
The alliance’s role in this process, Ms. Berger said, is to advocate for changes, which would then be implemented through public and private initiatives.
Buildings in the proposal feature energy-efficient measures like green roofs and storm-water reclamation. Another suggestion is that developers include publicly accessible building bases, with space for retail stores, theaters, libraries, schools and other community amenities.
“There’s no cute little cafes,” said Natalie Medei, 24, a fashion designer and resident who was moving soon, partly because of the lack of entertainment and dining options.
Julie Menin, the chairwoman of Community Board 1, said that one of the biggest complaints she hears is that there are not enough services and amenities, including parks.
The alliance envisions an elevated park atop a “deck” over the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel approach. Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg actually floated this idea in a 2002 speech in which he named the dream park Greenwich Square.
Ms. Menin is also looking for some specific improvements for autos. The alliance study, for the most part, emphasizes walking and steers clear of buses or cars. Like Mr. Kremer at the Pussycat Lounge, Ms. Menin is fed up with chaos on the streets. “We absolutely have to address cars downtown,” Ms. Menin said. “If it was up to me, we’d have taxi stands throughout the area.”
The study suggests plenty of bike racks, but it avoids a discussion of parking, which is a contentious issue downtown. Commuter buses and anticipated World Trade Center tourist buses need a place to park, and some community groups have proposed a bus depot in Greenwich South.
The city has built major transportation projects in Greenwich South, the alliance report reads, at the expense of the neighborhood. Beginning with the Elevated Railway in the 1860s, the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel in 1950 and the World Trade Center in 1966, these projects made pedestrian access awkward. But in modern times they may have sheltered some of the seedier elements that were eradicated in more high-profile locations like Times Square.
With better-flowing streets and more tourists, the question is whether the grit will be washed away. In 2007 the Pussycat Lounge sued a hotel developer who was considering demolishing the Pussycat’s historic building and others nearby. But the hotel market took a dive, Mr. Kremer said, and the developer sold the building.
Now that his and his neighbors’ businesses are suffering, Mr. Kremer is less concerned with saving the character of old New York than with saving their livelihood. “I love old New York, the small businesses,” he said. “That’s what gives it the flavor, but they’re getting completely killed.”
Thunder Lingerie and More, a shop down Greenwich Street from the Pussycat, would be right in the path of new development plans. Ms. Berger at the Downtown Alliance said she wanted to see a mix of businesses thrive. “He’s no different that anyone else,” she said about Thunder Lingerie’s owner. “He wants more activity and more action.”