For the past six years, the team behind the Lowline subterranean park proposal has pressed the Metropolitan Transportation Authority for access to an abandoned site below Delancey Street. Now we can report that the MTA and the city are finally ready to entertain proposals for the 60,000 sq. ft. space on the Lower East Side.
The Lo-Down has learned that the city’s Economic Development Corp. (EDC) next week will put out a “Request for Expressions of Interest” (RFEI) for the space. A spokesperson confirmed it will be released on Monday. Officials with the EDC will brief members of Community Board 3 about the RFEI next month.
The Essex Street Trolley Terminal was shut down in 1948. It wasn’t until 2009, when Lowline co-founder James Ramsey first viewed the site, that anyone considered the possibility of reactivating space. The Lowline would be an underground park and community gathering spot, utilizing sunlight channeling technology developed by Ramsey. A small-scale version of the project is on display at the Lowline Lab, open weekends in a warehouse building at 140 Essex St.
The EDC spokesperson said the city is looking for “creative responses to activate the space.” We’ll have to wait until Monday to fill in many other details. Will the RFEI, for example, specify that proposals should be community-oriented, or will purely commercial enterprises be welcome?
The space is owned by the city but the MTA holds a long-term lease for the site. In October, MTA spokesperson Adam Lisberg told Atlas Obscura, “We do not object to [the Lowline’s] conversion to a park project as long as the city and other stakeholders support the project and it does not impose a financial burden on the MTA.” And just a few days ago, in the Wall Street Journal (subscription required), an EDC spokesperson said, the site “would require a formal bidding process, which is needed to determine a myriad of factors—from establishing construction costs to identifying operational needs and capacity—all of which determine whether a project is appropriate and feasible.”
Local elected officials and Community Board 3 expressed their support for the park proposal years ago. Back in 2013, a wide range of city, state and federal representatives urged the MTA to begin turning over the site. Now the Lowline team faces the prospect of competing proposals. After years of advocacy and preparation, however, they obviously have a big advantage. In a statement last night, Lowline co-founder Dan Barasch said, “We are looking forward to the release of the RFEI, as a fresh opportunity to share our vision for a new beautiful public space at the heart of the Lower East Side.”