LowLine Team Returns to CB3, Addresses Gentrification, Funding Questions

It has been well over a year since the team behind the LowLine, the proposed public green space beneath Delancey Street, went public.  In that time, they have held countless informational sessions and fundraisers, met one-on-one with many groups, staged a high profile demonstration project in the Essex Street Market and generated a huge amount of media coverage.  But in spite of these efforts, co-creators Dan Barasch and James Ramsey know there’s a long road ahead if they are to succeed in transforming an abandoned rail station.  City and state officials in a position to move the project from the “cool idea” to “real-life project” phase have yet to come on board.  Even within the Lower East Side community, where the LowLine has been met with a lot of enthusiasm, Barasch and Ramsey have some work to do. It’s in this spirit, that they’ll be appearing tonight before Community Board 3′s land use committee.

In the past several weeks, they have been circulating a “preliminary vision and planning study,” detailing how the underground facility might be used, how it would be financed and what the impact could potentially be on the surrounding area.  This evening they’ll share some of the study’s fine points with CB3, which voted last June to “officially support” the LowLine project.   It would be an overstatement to say opposition to the Delancey Underground concept is now emerging, but in a community board meeting late last year, there were signs of new skepticism from some land use committee members.  Since that meeting, various activists have hinted that they’re concerned about the potential of the LowLine to be an agent of gentrification. Recently, we sat down with Barasch to talk about that specific issue.

Delancey Underground Plans Kickstarter Campaign; Tenement Museum Event Scheduled February 16

Architectural rendering courtesy: RAAD Studio/James Ramsey.

The Delancey Underground, that intriguing proposal to build a park in an abandoned trolley station, hasn’t exactly kept a low profile since its unveiling last fall. But in the coming weeks you’re going to be hearing a lot more from co-founders Dan Barasch and James Ramsey about their drive to build public support and to raise money for the ambitious project.

As Curbed reported yesterday, they’ll soon launch a Kickstarter campaign to fund a large-scale demonstration of the “sunlight irrigation system” Ramsey is designing to transmit natural light into the subterranean space.

Yesterday we checked in with Barasch, who told us he hopes the fundraising effort will have a true grass roots spirit. The Delancey Underground team has placed a high priority on community engagement and is very focused on winning the support of all kinds of neighborhood organizations as well as individuals from all walks of life. You can see the growing list of supporters on their web site. Among the high profile backers: Morris Vogel, president of the Lower East Side Tenement Museum.

“Delancey Underground’s” 2012 Goal: “Submit a Winning Bid” to the MTA

There’s been a lot of talk this year about “The Delancey Underground,” the subterranean park James Ramsey and Dan Barasch want to build in the old trolley station below Delancey Street.  Recently, Barasch joined the founders of The High Line (a project that, in part, inspired their idea) on CUNY-TV.

Not a lot we haven’t heard before. But a couple of points Barasch made are worth highlighting. First, the Delancey Underground team fully expects the MTA (which manages the abandoned terminal) to issue a “request for proposals” sometime soon.  Barasch said, “our goal in 2012 is to submit the winning bid.”

Second, he said a big emphasis right now is demonstrating that “economic value” can be derived from a public space.  There’s no doubt the MTA (and the city) will be tempted to choose among the most lucrative proposals, which presumably would involve commercial real estate development in the 60,000 sq. ft. space.  The High Line has, of course, triggered a real estate boom on the West Side (something not everyone welcomes).  Barasch made it clear he and Ramsey hope to have Community Board 3 and the community-at-large on their side — demonstrating to the MTA that there’s broad support on the Lower East Side for a park rather than, say a subterranean Wal-Mart.