Say So Long to the Lowline: Underground Park Proposal Goes Dormant

Lowline rendering; courtesy of Raad Studio/James Ramsey.

Lowline rendering; courtesy of Raad Studio/James Ramsey.

The Lowline, an audacious plan to create an underground park on the Lower East Side, made a big splash when it was first proposed in 2011. But it faded during the past couple of years without so much as a whimper.  This week, a prominent Lowline board member publicly acknowledged what had become obvious: the  dream of transforming the old Delancey Street trolley terminal is dead, at least for now.

The board member, Signe Nielsen of Mathews Nielsen Landscape Architects, told Crain’s that the Lowline had “gone into dormancy” after failing to meet fundraising benchmarks set by the city. When the NYC Economic Development Corporation gave conditional approval for the project in mid-2016, it required the Lowline team to raise $10 million within a year. The full price tag was expected to exceed $80 million.

Crain’s reported that the nonprofit foundation set up by the Lowline brought in $3.7 million, but had come close to running out of money by 2017.  In its proposal, the Lowline pledged to undertake a substantial private fundraising campaign, but also wanted $22 million in city funding. In an interview with Untapped Cities last year, Lowline co-founder Dan Barasch said:

The Lowline had this incredible arc of the last decade. In 2016, we received conditional designation from the City of New York. Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen signaled a lot of support from City Hall for the project. And then from there, we entered into conversations with the city around whether they would be willing and able to contribute financially to the capital construction costs. And for a while that seemed like that was going to be possible. But for a variety of reasons, including the political zeitgeist, and also the inclinations of this administration, the funding has not been forthcoming.

The Lowline has had its detractors. Some community activists argued that a city struggling with an affordable housing crisis could ill afford a subterranean green space in a neighborhood reeling from the impacts of gentrification. But the bold idea enjoyed widespread support in the community and among elected officials.  The Lowline helped focus the attention of urban planners worldwide on the possibility of transforming abandoned spaces below urban centers. And then there’s the innovative technology, developed by Lowline co-creator James Ramsey, to channel sunlight underground. It’s a concept that may very well have staying power.

Here’s a look back at The Lo-Down’s coverage of the Lowline over the years:

–Sept. 19, 2011: The Lowline’s co-creators unveil their plan to create the world’s first underground park on the Lower East Side

Williamsburg Bridge Trolley Terminal space. Photo: NYC EDC.

Williamsburg Bridge Trolley Terminal space. Photo: NYC EDC.

–Sept. 5, 2012: The Lowline gets real at the Essex Street Market; “Imagining the Lowline” exhibit opens to the public

Lowline exhibit in the Essex Street Market in 2012.

Lowline exhibit in the Essex Street Market in 2012.

–Feb. 5, 2013: Lowline Team appears before Community Board 3 to address gentrification and funding concerns

–Oct. 9, 2014: Deputy mayor gives Lowline a vote of confidence

Alicia Glen, NYC Deputy Mayor.

Alicia Glen, NYC Deputy Mayor.

–Oct. 14, 2015: After a successful Kickstarter campaign the Lowline is set to debut Lowline Lab

The Lowline Lab in the Essex Street Market. Photo courtesy of The Lowline.

The Lowline Lab in the Essex Street Market. Photo courtesy of The Lowline.

–Dec. 10, 2015: Community Board 3 raises new questions about the Lowline proposal

–July 27, 2016: The city conditionally approves the Lowline proposal

Lowline co-founders James Ramsey and Dan Barasch. File photo.

Lowline co-founders James Ramsey and Dan Barasch. File photo.

–Sept. 19, 2016: The Lowline releases its full proposal to transform the former Delancey Street trolley station

lowline prograaming concepts