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

The Lowline’s Young Ambassador Program is Now Accepting Applications


The Lowline is accepting applications for its Young Ambassadors Program. The organization hoping to build a public green space in an abandoned trolley station below Delancey Street started the program last year to engage local teens in the community engagement process. It’s now time to choose the sophomore class.

The Lowline will be picking 12 high school students interested in careers in science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics (STEAM). Young ambassadors help facilitate community workshops, lead educational sessions for younger kids and take part in community events. A $1,000 stipend is offered to participants.

Applications are being accepted through Sept. 18. You can find more information here.

The Lowline has won preliminary approval from the city, and is now working on raising millions of dollars for the ambitious project and continuing community engagement and design efforts.

Plane Carrying Children, Longtime Partner of Lowline Co-Founder Missing in the Bahamas

Jennifer Blumin. Photo via The Lowline's Twitter feed.

Jennifer Blumin. Photo via The Lowline’s Twitter feed.

A small plane carrying the young children and longtime partner of Lowline co-founder James Ramsey is missing in the Bahamas. Searchers have found a debris field near where the plane was last heard from.

40-year-old Jennifer Blumin, a well-known event planner, was heading to Florida from Puerto Rico after a Mother’s Day celebration when the plane disappeared from radar. The Coast Guard has not confirmed whether the debris is from the missing aircraft and a search for survivors is ongoing.

Also on board were Blumin’s 3 and 4 year-old sons, as well as Nathan Ulrich, a New Hampshire inventor. Ramsey, creator of the proposed Lowline underground park, is the father of the two toddlers. In the early years of the Lowline (beginning in 2011), Blumin was heavily involved (she formerly served on the board of directors).

We’ll have more details as they become available.


Lowline Workshop on Saturday + Job Posting For Youth & Community Manager

lowline flyer

Coming up on Saturday, the Lowline will be hosting another public workshop. This session will focus on what types of programs and activities will be offered in the proposed park under Delancey Street. The workshop takes place at 10 a.m., at Hamilton Fish Park Library. If you’re not able to attend, you can offer feedback via

One another note. The Lowline is hiring a manager of youth and community. If you’re interested in the position, click here for more details.

Essex Market Food Fest, Science Fair at the Lowline Lab This Weekend

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.

There are two big events happening at The Lowline Lab this coming weekend. It will be one of your last chances to visit the exhibition in the Essex Street Market before the prototype for the underground park closes at the end of this month.

On Saturday from 11 a.m.-5 p.m., there will be a Science & Sustainability Fair. There will be interactive workshops on the water cycle conducted by the Randall’s Island Park Alliance, a scavenger hunt, a hands-on worm bin from the LES Ecology Center, explainers on how the Lowline’s green landscape was created and sustained, a session on the oyster reintroduction project in New York Harbor and even a workshop on eating insects! More info here.

And then on Sunday, the Winter DayLife Festival comes to the Lowline Lab, featuring the merchants of the Essex Street Market. Participating vendors include: Formaggio Essex, Puebla Mexican Food, Pain D’Avignon, Tra La La Juice, Lower East Side Girls Club, Osaka Grub, Arancini Bros., Porto Rico Coffee, Saxelby Cheesemongers and Ni Japanese Deli. The festival takes place from 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Here’s the invite.

The Lowline Lab has been open since October of 2015. While it’s closing Feb. 26, the Lowline team is ramping up preparations for the real deal — a 60,000 square foot park in the former Williamsburg Bridge Trolley Station under Delancey Street. They are in the midst of conducting public engagement sessions and raising money after the city gave its conditional approval for the project last year.


Winter DayLife Festival at the Lowline Lab Happens Feb. 12

lowline/essex street market

Coming up on Sunday, Feb. 12, the vendors of the Essex Street Market will be participating in the second annual Winter DayLife Festival at The Lowline Lab.

A prototype of the underground park has been set up in a vacant building of the Essex Street Market since the fall of 2015. It will be closing in the next few weeks as developers of Essex Crossing prepare the building for demolition. So this will be one of your last chances to see the Lowline Lab in its current form.

Merchants taking part in the festival include Osaka Grub, Arancini Bros., Saxelby Cheesemongers, Ni Japanese Deli, Pain D’Avignon, Porto Rico Coffee, Rainbo’s Fish, Puebla Mexican, and Formaggio Essex. More vendors will be announced in the near future.

Winter DayLife will take place from 11 a.m.-5 p.m. If you’re interested in attending, please RSVP.

Here’s another market-related event coming up next Wednesday, Feb. 1. Three women trailblazers from the food world will be taking part in a panel discussion. It’s part of the market’s evening “Talk & Taste” series. The discussion will be moderated by Caroline Shin of the web series Cooking With Granny. Panelists include DeDe Lahman, co-Owner of Clinton Street Baking Company; Claudia Wu, co-founder and creative director of Cherry Bombe magazine; and Shalini Singh, founder and instructor at Shalini’s Kitchen. The evening starts at 6:30 p.m. with bites from Clinton Street Baking Company and Saxelby Cheesemongers.  You can register here.


Lowline Design Workshop Takes Place Jan. 25

Lowline rendering by James Ramsey.

Lowline rendering by James Ramsey.

The team behind the Lowline underground park proposal will be stepping up their community outreach efforts in 2017. The first neighborhood engagement workshop on the year will take place Wednesday, Jan. 25 at 6:30 p.m.

When the city conditionally approved the project in the former trolley station below Delancey Street last summer, one of the requirements was to hold quarterly meetings of a Community Engagement Committee and 5-10 public design sessions.

Organizers will be asking participants to detail how they think the Lowline can serve the local community, how it should be designed and programmed and how the space should be governed.

The Lowline has hired an urban planning consultant, Karp Strategies, to help with the community engagement process. It is also using an urban planning site, coUrbanize, to gather online feedback about the proposal. You can offer your suggestions here.

The meeting will take place in the community room at Two Bridges Tower, 82 Rutgers Slip.

Lowline’s Community Advisory Board Meets Monday, Dec. 5

Lowline rendering; courtesy of Raad Studio/James Ramsey.

Lowline rendering; courtesy of Raad Studio/James Ramsey.

Coming up on Monday evening, the Lowline’s Community Advisory Board will be meeting in the Lowline Lab at 140 Essex St. The quarterly meetings are meant to help guide the overall vision for the proposed underground park. The Lowline team won conditional approval for the project from the city this past summer. See the flyer posted below for more details. All are welcome.

lowline community advisory board

(Exclusive) Here’s Your First Look at the Lowline Underground Park Proposal

Lowline rendering; courtesy of Raad Studio/James Ramsey.

Lowline rendering; courtesy of Raad Studio/James Ramsey.

The New York City Economic Development Corp. (EDC) this past summer conditionally approved a plan to turn an abandoned trolley station below Delancey Street into the world’s first underground park. Now, for the first time, we’re getting a look at the winning proposal to create the Lowline on the Lower East Side.

The Lowline team has provided us with a copy of the 154 page document, which we’re publishing in its entirety today (see below). It will be one of the topics covered at the next meeting of the organization’s Community Engagement Committee this coming Thursday from 6-8 p.m. (140 Essex St., all are invited).

The city put out a Request for Expressions of Interest (RFEI) late last year for the former trolley station site. The Lowline was the only application received. EDC officials announced their decision July 13 at a meeting of Community Board 3. They said anyone who wanted to see the proposal would be required to submit of Freedom of Information Law request. But, we’re told, the Lowline organization wanted to make the proposal available to the community, and released it in consultation with the EDC.

If you’ve been following the project during the past five years, parts of the proposal will feel familiar. But there’s also a lot of new information about the design, cost, potential impact on the community and timeline for construction. We’ve provided a synopsis below, along with some additional context from Dan Barasch, the Lowline’s co-founder and executive director.

Barasch told us, “the proposal simply lays out a potential scenario for what the Lowline could become, but that the community visioning process will help inform the actual schematic design.” During the next year, he said, there will be large “town hall” style meetings as well as “smaller workshops on specific design ideas and that participants “will have a direct impact on programming, design, potential uses, and operational issues.”

There’s plenty here for project supporters to love, but also details that detractors of the underground park are sure to seize upon. In the past year, opponents have expressed worries about potential impacts in a rapidly gentrifying neighborhood and have come out against public funding for the Lowline. As you’ll see, the organization is seeking $22 million in city funding, while it plans to raise $35 million from the private sector. We’ll be keeping a close eye on the reaction to this proposal in the days ahead and be following up with concerns and questions that arise.


The Lowline Concept Explained

According to the proposal, “the Lowline is an exciting new initiative that aims to use cutting edge solar technology to transform the abandoned former Williamsburg Bridge Trolley Terminal into the world’s first underground park — a spectacular, one-acre underground public space.” It’s meant to provide the Lower East Side with “desperately needed green space,” to establish a new neighborhood hub and to set an “international model for the adaptive reuse and cultivation of abandoned underground spaces.”  The Lowline team calls it, “a historic preservation project fused with a futuristic underground garden” and “a new venue for culture and arts… offering programming to support local youth, artists and community organizations.” The facility, organizers say, will be, “free and open to the public five days a week, including weekends (from 6 a.m.-9 p.m. year-around),” and would (only) be closed for a minimal number of revenue-generating events.”

lowline prograaming concepts


The 60,000 square foot space spans from the foot of the Williamsburg Bridge to Norfolk Street. The more spacious western end, is “bounded by steel, rivets, vaults and the original cobblestones of the trolley terminal,” which was shut down in 1948. Once the Lowline is finished in 2021, visitors will “descend a grand staircase near Norfolk Street” and be ushered into an open plaza, where performances and other public events are envisioned. “Tucked away from the plaza,” will be a 500 square foot gift shop. The eastern end will feature a ramble, “offer(ing) the unique experience of exploring dense and verdant underground gardens via winding pathways, marked by the old cobblestones and trolley tracks evoking this space’s original purpose.” There will be a variety of “casual seating options,” as well as a 1600 square feet cafe/bar. A third area at the far end of the ramble will be a flexible programming area.

lowline rendering entrance

An early rendering shows the Lowline’s main entrance on Norfolk Street.

The heart of the Lowline will, of course, be underground, but it will also extend to the street-level plaza on the south side of Delancey Street. The team envisions entrances on both Norfolk and Clinton streets. Also planned: “clusters of solar concentrators… arrayed along the (street) in the median as well as the northern edge of the plaza.” The Lowline borders sites 4 and 5 of Essex Crossing, the large residential and retail complex now under construction. Solar collectors will be placed on the roof of the site 4 building, which will then reflect the light to street level and channel it underground. The Delancey Street solar concentrators could, the applicants say, “act as ‘street furniture’, possibly embracing multiple functions ranging from a weather canopy, to phone charging stations or WiFi kiosks, to bike storage.” They would  be “deployed rhythmically” to “create a processional quality along the approach to the bridge.”


Budget/Funding Sources

It is expected to cost $83 million to build the underground park, although the proposal states that this estimate could rise or fall depending on a number of variables. The trolley terminal has been mostly untouched for nearly 70 years. It will be a monumental job transforming a very old transportation hub into a futuristic underground park. The area will need to be sound proofed from the adjacent J/M/Z subway station. Historical elements will be fully restored. Electricity and plumbing will be brought into the space. The cost estimate also includes development of the sunlight channeling system.

The Lowline plans over the next three years to raise $35 million from private sources, including major donors, corporate sponsors, foundations and individuals. The organization will seek $30 million in funding from public sources, including $22 million from the City of New York (the city has not committed any funds to the Lowline as of yet, with the exception of some modest grants for the existing Lowline Lab). The Lowline hopes to secure $5 million from the State of New York and $3 million from federal agencies “dedicated to historic preservation and innovation in science and technology education.” The organization is also seeking $18 million in New Market Tax Credit and Historic Tax Credits.

What about the operations budget? “Upon opening,” the proposal states, “the Lowline will be administered as a self-sufficient not-for-profit organization, and will not be reliant upon City funding for its core operations.” About 85% of its operating budget will come from private “contributions, gifts and grants.” The rest will be drawn from “earned revenue, with sponsored events accounting for the largest source of this revenue.”  According to the proposal, “the Lowline is committed to becoming a year-round free public space,” but that “it reserves the right to utilize the site for an extremely limited number of sponsored events… in order to generate a stabilized annual income exceeding $250,000 per year.” The organization also plans to support its operations from concession and the gift shop sales.

Rendering: Essex Crossing. ShoP Architects.

Rendering: Essex Crossing. ShoP Architects.

Partnership with Essex Crossing

The developers of the Essex Crossing mixed-use project long ago expressed their strong support for the Lowline. The underground park will be located adjacent to the Market Line, a 150,000 square foot retail facility being built as part of Essex Crossing. Delancey Street Associates, the development consortium, is a corporate sponsor of the Lowline. The proposal shows that the developers and the Lowline organization intend to maintain a close relationship going forward. The application included a letter from Delancey Street Associates in which the consortium, “pledges to work with the Lowline… so long as its mission of creating the world’s first underground park as a publicly accessible community asset is maintained.” The letter also stated that the two organizations would remain separate entities and that Essex Crossing would receive no “preferential or exclusive use rights.” The two groups intend to coordinate their construction efforts, an arrangement that the Lowline considers critical to keeping costs from spiraling.


Visitorship/Local Benefits

The Lowline team estimates that around one-million people will likely visit the facility each year, which would make it, “the leading free-of-charge downtown attraction focused on science, technology, and public design.” [As a point of comparison, approximately 500,000 people visit the New Museum annually.] The prognostication is based on attendance at the Lowline Lab, a weekend-only exhibition that opened in a former building of the Essex Street Market last October. According to a survey of Lowline Lab visitors, about one-third live or work on the Lower East Side, while two-thirds live elsewhere in the city or are tourists visiting New York. The proposal touts the Lowline’s positive impact on small businesses, which struggle in a neighborhood with little daytime foot traffic. It’s estimated that the facility would generate $14 million for local businesses annually. There are expected to be 25 full-time employees at the Lowline (the organization is pledging to hire locally).

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.

Community Engagement

The proposal highlighted the Lowline’s, “extraordinary degree of local support” for the project. “From community leaders at settlement houses to local business owners, from school principals to green space activists, and from artists to parents,” the applicants wrote, “the Lowline has captured the imagination of so many members of our neighborhood.” It detailed outreach efforts that have taken place over the years, including exhibitions, surveys and the Young Designers Program, a partnership with local settlement houses to engage your people about the subterranean park plan. There were letters of support from Community Board 3, the Tenement Museum, Henry Street Settlement, Grand Street Settlement, the Hillman Co-op, the Clemente Soto Velez Cultural Center, the LES Partnership, the Chinatown Partnership, the Seward Park Co-op, Educational Alliance, New Design HS and Russ & Daughters.

The proposal also referenced a neighborhood studycommissioned through a grant from the J.M. Kaplan Fund and conducted by Hester Street Collaborative. It was intended to,”deliver strategic recommendations to ensure that the Lowline could best represent community values and interests.” The study included interviews with “a targeted group of local stakeholders to discuss community priorities and concerns and collect their ideas for programming and development of the site.” Some of those questioned represent groups (such as Good Old Lower East Side, CAAAV and Two Bridges Neighborhood Council), which are adamantly opposed to the Lowline. [You can read the full report at the end of this story.]  Among many other points, participants said they wanted to see, “a formal contract that provides and holds the project (accountable for providing) real community benefit in perpetuity.”


Next Steps

While the community engagement process is ongoing, the Lowline team will be preparing a rezoning of the underground space. It will need to  be formally transferred from the MTA to the City of New York. The Lowline would then sign a long-term lease (the organization suggested paying the city a $1 annual fee). The zoning is necessary, according to the proposal, “to allow the retail, restaurant, event, and other commercial uses intended for the project.” The site will undergo public review as part of the city’s Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP).

As indicated at the beginning of this story, the Lowline’s Community Engagement Committee meets Thursday from 6-8 p.m. at the Lowline Lab, 140 Essex Street. The public is invited to attend.



Lowline “Young Ambassador” Applications Due Sept. 16


During the summer, the Lowline opened applications for its Young Ambassadors Program. It’s a paid 6-month mentorship and job training program for 16 local high school juniors. Here’s a reminder that the deadline for those applications is coming up this week. They’re being accepted through Sept. 16. A synopsis of the program:

Young Ambassadors will gain experience in teaching and communicating science, serving as docents and leading interactive educational sessions focused on STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics) at the Lowline Lab. Young Ambassadors will benefit from career workshops and networking opportunities with the Lowline’s core team and city-wide collaborators—gaining exposure and experiential learning opportunities in STEAM career pathways. In addition, each Young Ambassador will receive a $1,000 scholarship for their participation in the program.

You can learn more here and also access the online application. The Lowline is, of course, a project to build the world’s first underground park in the old Delancey Street trolley station. The city recently gave the Lowline team permission to move forward with the plan.

Followup: City Approves Lowline Proposal For Former Trolley Terminal


Lowline rendering; courtesy of Raad Studio/James Ramsey.

Almost five years after they went public with a headline-grabbing plan to create the world’s first underground park in an abandoned trolley station on the Lower East Side, founders of the Lowline have cleared a major hurdle. As we first reported Wednesday night, city officials have given their conditional approval for the ambitious project.

Representatives of the Economic Development Corp. (EDC) announced the decision at a meeting of Community Board 3. The Lowline responded to a Request for Expressions of Interest (RFEI) put out by the city late last year for the old Williamsburg Bridge Trolley Terminal. No other applications were received. In the next year, the Lowline is required to raise $10 million, submit schematic plans for the 60,000 square foot space and,  as a press release put it, “implement a robust community engagement plan.”

In an interview, Lowline Executive Director Dan Barasch said, “It was an extraordinary day for us. It feels wonderful that the city is an enthusiastic supporter of the project. We’ve enjoyed extraordinary support across the community. Now we have a real vote of confidence from the city.”

Alica Glen, deputy mayor for housing and economic development, said in a statement, “The Lowline represents an incredible fusion of technology and public space. For eighty years, this underground space has sat idle. Now we’re putting it to use for the people of the Lower East Side and for all New Yorkers to enjoy. We can’t wait to see this experiment unfold.”

Charlie Gans, an executive vice president, took the lead for the EDC at the community board, describing the Lowline as an innovative public gathering and cultural space. “We have decided to conditionally designate the Lowline,” said Gans. Over the next year, he explained, there will be quarterly meetings of a new Community Engagement Committee and 5-10 public design charrettes. The historic trolley space, inactive since 1948, is owned by the City of New York and leased to the MTA. If the Lowline organization meets the agreed upon commitments, Gans said, “the acquisition process” will begin next fall.  Shovels could be in the ground by late 2018.

Photo: Courtesy The Lowline

Photo: Courtesy The Lowline

Back in November, members of CB3 complained to the Economic Development Corp. about the lack of local consultation before the city officially issued the RFEI. As a result, officials extended the deadline for applications by a month. At the time, they said the community board would not have a role in the selection process, but that there would be many opportunities for feedback from local residents. On Wednesday evening, Gans called the city’s decision just “the first step in a long process” and said, “We’re going to be making sure that the Lowline is engaging with the community in a real way. That’s why this designation is conditional.”

For some community board members, these assurances fell far short of their expectations. Damaris Reyes, executive director of the housing advocacy organization, GOLES, is an outspoken critic of both the city’s handling of the former trolley space as well as of the Lowline proposal itself. Referring to last winter’s discussions between CB3 and the Economic Development Corp., she said Wednesday evening, “I feel so dissatisfied and so disappointed that you did not respect this community board enough to come to us the right way.”

Realistically, she argued, no developer could have pulled together a compelling proposal in the short amount of time between the publication of the RFEI and the submission deadline. “The Lowline,” she said, “has had an unfair advantage of working on this and putting together all the details, the renderings, for several years now.” Reyes added, “I just want to say that I’m really disappointed in the way that EDC is now coming here to tell us there was one applicant, that they’re designating the Lowline as the applicant, not recognizing that perhaps you need to go back to the drawing board and rethink this, because there could be a million and one uses for that space, and that you disregarded what we said, the challenges that we are facing in our community.”

In 2012, Community Board 3 voted 44-0 in support of the Lowline project. Many board members continue to be enthusiastic backers of the underground park vision. Others have their doubts, including MyPhuong Chung, chairperson of the land use committee. While acknowledging the city’s efforts to give applicants an additional month to submit proposals, Chung told city officials, “we didn’t have any input in the decisions that were made,” and noted that gentrification has only become a bigger issue on the Lower East Side since the board endorsed the Lowline four-years ago. Referring to pressures on the community, she said, “these are real issues and, moving forward, we need to address them. Please know that we’re serious about this.”

Other land use committee members questioned whether the Lowline would be a drain on public funds that could be used for other purposes, whether the space would be frequently closed to the public for private events and whether, as public member Harriet Cohen put it, would be overtaken by “hot dog stands and concerts.”

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.

Committee member Dominic Berg was board chairperson when the Lowline went public in 2011. He was supportive of the project then, and continues to believe in it to this day. He suggested that other developers interested in the space could have started to work on ideas years ago. “This is a project that has been very, very well publicized for a long time,” said Berg. “The Lowline has been methodically working with the community… reaching out to all of the community leaders, trying to make sure that they are listening to the community and clearly trying to do what’s right for the community.” 

Another longtime supporter, Councilmember Maragret Chin, urged people concerned about the project to become involved. She sponsored the first meeting of the Community Engagement Committee last month, along with Daisy Paez, tenant president of the Grand Street Guild apartments. She called the Lowline’s use of sunlight channeling technology for the park and the organization’s youth programming “amazing.” Chin told board members, “We can all have input… It’s really what we make of it. So I really encourage all of you to work with us and to work with EDC.”

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

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

When it was finally his turn to talk, the Lowline’s Dan Barasch said, “Our approach has always been, very consistently, that we simply want to take the space and turn it into a beautiful public gathering space that is used for the entire community, designed in close partnership with the community.”  He encouraged anyone who’s interested to take part in the next community engagement meeting (it’s happening July 25.) Barasch said the committee, “will talk about real things — hours of operation, whether or not there’s retail, whether or not there’s programming happening in the space.” None of these things, he said, are “etched in stone.”

EDC officials have said they felt some urgency to develop the underground space now in order to capitalize on Essex Crossing, the large-scale residential and retail project now under construction in the immediate area. The developers are bullish on the Lowline, which they believe will draw locals and tourists alike to Essex Crossing’s shops, restaurants and entertainment venues. During this week’s meeting, Tim Laughlin of the Lower East Side Partnership said he’s convinced the subterranean park will also provide a boost to the neighborhood’s existing independent businesses. “I have long thought that the Lowline, as a project, would be a driver for small merchants,” said Laughlin. He cited the Lowline Lab, a prototype that opened in the Essex Street Market last October. The weekend-only community space has attracted 70,000 visitors. A food festival held in February drew a large crowd and led to big sales increases for Essex market vendors, Laughlin said.

There were, however, differences of opinion about the Lowline’s potential positive impact on local businesses. Cathy Dang, executive director of the advocacy organization, CAAAV, said she watched a longtime diner on Hester Street struggle after the opening of an art gallery. While the owner was, at first, optimistic about the arrival of a new clientele, he now believes the changes in the area have actually cost him business. Dang said she’s concerned the Lowline will have a similar impact. Laughlin countered that Essex Crossing and the Lowline together will, “drive foot traffic” and “support cultural institutions, support small businesses — both ones that have been here for multiple generations and ones that are new.”

At one point Wednesday night, Damaris Reyes asked Barasch whether his organization had released a community impact study conducted by the Hester Street Collaborative for the Lowline in 2015. The exchange offered a glimpse of the contentious history between certain community activists and the Lowline team over the last few years. During the meeting, Barasch acknowledged that the study had not been published. Reyes contended that opinions of Lowline detractors, such as herself, were initially discounted during the research phase of the project. Barasch said this assertion is untrue.

[This past March, The Lo-Down interviewed Barasch, Reyes, Hester Street Collaborative’s executive director and others about the research study. The initiative, paid for by the J.M. Kaplan Fund, was envisioned as a collaboration with GOLES, CAAAV and the Two Bridges Neighborhood Council. These groups initially agreed to participate in surveying their constituencies. Leaders of all three organizations told us they ultimately decided against taking part due to insufficient funding for robust outreach efforts. Members of the groups did participate in interviews conducted as part of Hester Street Collaborative’s survey. We’ll have more about this community engagement exercise in a future story.]

In the next several months, members of Community Board 3 will be seeking assurances from the Lowline team and from the city that the underground space will, in fact, operate for the benefit of the local community. City officials acknowledged that the former trolley space will eventually go through the city’s land use approval process (ULURP).  Hearings before the community board and City Planning Commission will be required, the Borough president will weigh in and the City Council must vote on the final land disposition.


Breaking: Lowline Underground Park Proposal Wins City Approval

Lowline rendering by James Ramsey.

Lowline rendering by James Ramsey.

New York City officials tonight are announcing the initial approval of the Lowline underground park proposal in an abandoned former trolley site below Delancey Street.

Since the fall of 2011, when the concept was first made public, co-founders James Ramsey and Dan Barasch have been trying to persuade the MTA and two mayoral administrations to sign off on their plan. They hope to convert the 60,000 square foot space into a lively green space, using sunlight channeling technology.

Last year, the NYC Economic Development Corp. put out a Request for Expressions of Interest for the old trolley station. The announcement is being made now at a meeting of Community Board 3.

The decision is being called a conditional designation, meaning the Lowline team must meet several requirements during the next couple of years. These requirements include engaging the local community through a series of visioning sessions, holding quarterly meetings of a new community engagement committee, raising $10 million within a 12 month period and completing schematic designs within the next year.

We’re attending tonight’s meeting of CB3’s land use committee, in which more details of the city’s agreement with the Lowline are expected to be unveiled. We’ll have a full report when new information is available.

UPDATE: We will have a comprehensive report from Wednesday night’s community board meeting Thursday on The Lo-Down.

Lowline Launches Young Ambassadors Program, Community Engagement Committee

Photo courtesy of The Lowline.

Photo courtesy of The Lowline.

It’s been a busy summer for the team behind the Lowline, the proposed park that would be created in an abandoned trolley station below Delancey Street. Here’s an update on what they’ve been up to in recent months.

Just today, the Lowline opened applications for its new Young Ambassadors Program, a six-month long paid mentoring experience for high school juniors. Here’s a description of the program from the organization’s news blast:

Young Ambassadors will gain experience in teaching and communicating science, serving as docents and leading interactive educational sessions focused on STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics) at the Lowline Lab. Young Ambassadors will benefit from career workshops and networking opportunities with the Lowline’s core team and city-wide collaborators—gaining exposure and experiential learning opportunities in STEAM career pathways. In addition, each Young Ambassador will receive a $1,000 scholarship for their participation in the program.

You can learn more here and also access the online application.

Also this summer, the Lowline established a Community Advisory Committee. The board, made up of Lower East Side residents and community leaders, met for the first time on June 13. A second meeting is scheduled July 25 (see flyer below).

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Earlier this year, leaders of several community-based organizations raised concerns about the Lowline proposal during meetings of Community Board 3.  They called for more engagement with the local community about the vision for the underground park [some of them remain adamantly opposed to the proposal]. While the community engagement committee had been in-the-works for some time, it’s one way the Lowline organization is addressing the concerns.

According to minutes from the first meeting, committee members include representatives from organizations such as Henry Street Settlement, University Settlement and Fourth Arts Block, as well as tenant leaders in the immediate area. Among the resident groups participating: reps from the Grand Street Guild apartments, Seward Park Extension and Vladeck Houses. At the June 13 session, there was a wide ranging discussion about the programming, design and governance of the Lowline.

Back in November of 2015, the city’s Economic Development Corp. (EDC) solicited ideas for the underground trolley site. The Lowline submitted its proposal as part of that process and the organization’s leaders have been meeting with city officials to answer questions and provide additional information. A city spokesperson tells us no decisions have been made as of yet, although EDC officials are scheduled to update Community Board 3’s land use committee on the topic next Wednesday evening.

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Lowline Garden Party. Photo by: Limor Azran Garfinkle.


Lowline board member Marquise Stillwell with Nasir Mouzon-Cooley. Photo by: Limor Azran Garfinkle.

On June 7, the Lowline hosted a “garden party” at the Lowline Lab, the temporary exhibition space that’s been set up inside a former building of the Essex Street Market. The organization’s co-founder, Dan Barasch, told guests that the lab has served an important purpose. “We’re really proud,” he said, “that (the Lowline is) no longer (just) an idea. The Lowline is now a tested, science-based approach to solving one of the biggest problems we face in New York City: a lack of public space for all.” The lab, which is only open on weekends, has attarcted 60,000 visitors and has proved,” said Barasch, “that the underground park can be a place of “inspiration, of learning, of peaceful reflection and of community.”

Also at the garden party, the Lowline honored Nasir Mouzon-Cooley, a local teenager who has participated in the organization’s Young Designers Program. Mouzon-Cooley connected with the program through the Educational Alliance. In remarks prepared for the fundraiser, he said, “I am proud of the fact that I was given the chance to share my vision of what the Lowline could be for my community… Being part of the Lowline project was a once in a lifetime experience and I’m so happy I was able to share a positive part of my life with you all.”


Council Member Chin Helps Lowline Launch Community Engagement Committeee

City Council member Margaret Chin at a demonstration project of the Lowline in 2012. Photo courtesy of the Lowline.

City Council member Margaret Chin at a demonstration project of the Lowline in 2012. Photo courtesy of the Lowline.

Coming up on Saturday, City Council member Margaret Chin will be co-hosting a community engagement event at the Lowline Lab.

The lab is a prototype of the full-scale park that’s envisioned in an abandoned trolley terminal beneath Delancey Street. The city’s Economic Development Corp. has been weighing the idea since February 1, when proposals for the space were due.

During Saturday’s event, visitors will be able to learn about a new “community engagement committee” that’s being set up. Late last year, members of several community organizations voiced concerns about the Lowline’s outreach efforts on the Lower East Side.

This committee is one way in which the Lowline team is addressing those concerns. Earlier this year, co-founder Dan Barasch told us, “We’re hoping to build out this idea of a community engagement committee… We think it’s important that we have a clear, committed governance structure in which we are showing we have diversity of community stakeholder input.”

Council member Chin has been a staunch supporter of the underground park, which would use sunlight channeling technology. In the past year, Chin and Council member Dan Garodnick allocated $8500 for programs at the lab.

The event will take place from noon-1:30 p.m. on Saturday at the Lowline Lab, which is located at 140 Essex St. Here’s the invite if you would like to RSVP.


Big Crowd Turns Out For Essex Street Market/Lowline Festival


Did you notice the long lines yesterday waiting to get inside the Lowline Lab? The Winter DayLife Festival, featuring food vendors from the Essex Street Market — inside the temporary laboratory at 140 Essex St. — drew thousands. In fact, we’re told, more than 8500 people walked through the doors.

The line snaked around Rivington Street throughout much of the day. The Lowline Lab, a prototype of the proposed park below Delancey Street, is open to the public every weekend. On Sunday, the Lowline crew teamed up with the Essex Street Market Vendor Association and the Lower East Side Partnership for the big event.  Merchants taking part included Saxelby Cheesemongers, Osaka Grub, Davidovich Bakery, Puebla Mexican Food, Arancini Bros, Ni Japanese Deli, Porto Rico Importing Company, Peasant Stock, Formaggio Essex and Pain D’Avignon.

The happening was, of course, good news for all involved, but especially for the Essex Street Market. As you may know, the vendors have experienced a drop in foot traffic during the past couple of years. The collaboration is part of a larger marketing campaign to lure people back to the historic public facility.

As a reminder, the Essex Street Market is open every day at 120 Essex St. Read more about all of the vendors here.

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