Downtown is no stranger to major construction, but the latest project to hit lower Manhattan could force 30 restaurants and small businesses to close for good, proprietors told amNewYork.
At issue is a long-delayed five-year project to transform Peck Slip Plaza near the South Street Seaport into a park. The work will finally begin this weekend and eventually tear up an eight-block area.
The nautical-themed park in the long term will add beauty to the area and serve downtown’s growing residential population.
But proprietors already struggling to stay afloat after a slow winter fear they won’t be around to reap the benefits, especially since they depend on summer business to survive.
The city has confirmed that part of the work will involve shutting off the restaurants’ water at different hours.
“Our cooks start at 6 a.m. and leave at 2 a.m.,” explains Maura Kilgore, co-owner of the Cowgirl Sea-Horse at 259 Front St. “When are they going to turn off the water so we’re not impacted? It’ll be illegal for us to operate without running water. We’ll likely have to close.”
Part of the area’s appeal is its scenic outdoor seating, but when jackhammers take to the historic blocks and scaffolding looms overhead, customers will likely keep moving, owners said.
“Who’s going to want to pay to sit outside if they’re digging up the ground just inches away?” Lee Holin, owner of Meade’s on 22 Peck Slip, asked. “They’re going to take away our livelihood.”
“It was a lot of work to get customers here from the Seaport,” said Fernando Dallorso, owner of Stella Bistro.
Since the project already has been postponed for more than six years, business owners point out, why not wait another three months?
“It’s a double-edged sword,” Dallorso said. “I’m not opposing enhancement of the area, but we pray all winter that summer comes to bring in some money.”
The Department of Design and Construction defends the choice to start work now. “It’s going to take over four years anyway. What difference does one summer make,” said spokesman Craig Chin.
Holin said the city solicited opinions only to disregard them.
“They asked us what we wanted, then said, ‘OK, sorry, we’re going to do it anyway,’” recalled Holin, referring to a meeting with the agency and the city Parks Department.
Calli Lerner, co-owner of wine bar Bin 220 and restaurant Keg 229, said that while the project is a welcome improvement to the area, nothing is worth the damage.
“A park on Peck Slip is better than a parking lot, and it will definitely better the neighborhood,” Lerner said. “But we’re all expecting at least four — if not seven — years of pure hell.”
Community Board 1 believes the project answers a call for open space in the Seaport, but is concerned about the effect on small business.
“While we understand the necessity of the work, we urge the DDC to do everything possible to minimize its impact on the area’s businesses,” said CB1 Chair Julie Menin.
The board has been fighting for the expansion of the LMDC’s Small Firm Assistance Program, Menin said, which will offer ompensation to proprietors. However, business owners who have seen the projected figures say they won’t even come close to buffering the impact of the staggering losses they expect to suffer.
“We can’t survive on $7,000 a year, and I’ll most likely be out of here before I even see that money anyway,” said Holin. “I’m scared that we’ll only last another year at the most. We’re trying to be optimistic, but it’s daunting.”
Below, a rendering of what the park will look like