Lower East Side Top 10: The Biggest Stories of 2011

Brooklyn chicken and waffle joint Sweet Chick got a green light to serve liquor at 178 Ludlow St. today.
Max Fish, the Ludlow Street institution, was shuttered in May.

The other day we published our “most clicked on” posts of 2011. Today, a look at the biggest/most significant stories we covered in the past 12 months.

1. THE 7TH PRECINCT’S NIGHTLIFE CRACKDOWN

Lower East Side bar owners hosted a most unwelcome guest this year: 7th Precinct Captain David Miller, a veteran of Chelsea’s club wars. The 7th Precinct conducted numerous undercover operations in the neighborhood’s nightlife establishments, in the name of uncovering underage drinking and other violations. Among the bars temporarily shuttered during 2011: legendary Ludlow Street watering hole Max Fish, Mason Dixon, White Slab Palace, Welcome to the Johnsons, Foundation, Le Lupanar and Gallery Bar.  Miller said he was simply addressing issues that Community Board 3 and residents have complained about for a long time: unruly crowds and late night noise.  One bar manager spoke with us in June, saying the crackdown was unfair and bad for the neighborhood.  A lawyer representing Clinton Street performance space and gallery, Culturefix, told a judge, “something stinks on the Lower East Side.”  Perhaps coincidentally (perhaps not), the crackdown subsided after a June clash (between cops and patrons) outside Tammany Hall and the arrival in the autumn of Captain Peter Venice, the 7th precinct’s new top cop.

 

2. THE DEATH OF ARMY PRIVATE DANNY CHEN

Danny Chen.

The October 3rd death in Afghanistan of Army Private Danny Chen, who grew up on the Lower East Side, shook residents of Chinatown.  Community activists and elected officials rallied around his family, staged an emotional vigil and protest at Columbus Park and pressured the Pentagon for answers. This month, military officials announced eight soldiers have been charged in connection with Chen’s death, which may or may not have been a suicide.  Community activists are demanding “justice for Danny Chen” as well as reforms addressing anti-Asian prejudice and abuse in the U.S. military.

 

3. HIGH PROFILE MURDERS

Jomali Morales.

The murder rate is nothing like it was in the 70’s, 80’s or early 90’s, but several high profile crimes raised concerns that the neighborhood is, perhaps, not as safe as the NYPD would have us believe.  The victims included: Jomali Morales (stabbed multiple times at the Baruch Houses in February),  Sarah Coit (killed inside her apartment in April, allegedly by her boyfriend),  Jonathan Alston (shot in the head on Pitt Street in June), Felicia Cruz (allegedly killed by an ex-boyfriend), Stewart Rhodes (fatally stabbed to death in May at a transitional housing facility) and Keith Salgado (shot and killed in October at the Campos Plaza projects).   In each of these murders, police point out, the suspect and victim were at least acquainted in passing.  But some community activists say the murder of Salgado, in particular, once again demonstrated that something needs to be done to keep teens off the streets and out of trouble. By the end of this year, youth programs were being established in an attempt to address the problem.

 

4. SEWARD PARK REDEVELOPMENT PROJECT FINALLY MOVES FORWARD

Seward Park redevelopment area.

After a 43-year-long stalemate among clashing neighborhood constituencies, Community Board 3 finally agreed in January on a set of guidelines for the redevelopment of the former-Seward Park Urban Renewal Area (SPURA). For much of the year, CB3 worked on hashing out more detailed plans. While city officials expressed general support, they avoided weighing in on the specifics.  In October, the public spoke out about a draft scoping document, outlining a mixed-use (residential and commercial) and mixed income project on the 7-acre parcel next to the Williamsburg Bridge.  Community activists opposed sections of the “draft scope of work.”  Officials sidestepped concerns about the possible demolition of the Essex Street Market in favor of a new, modernized (and some believe sterile) facility.  At year’s end, the city had not released a final scoping document for CB3 to review. In December, another community organization (the Chinatown Working Group) suggested CB3 should push for more than the 50% affordable housing agreed upon in the January negotiations.

 

5. CHINATOWN BUSINESS IMPROVEMENT DISTRICT APPROVED

Speaker Christine Quinn, City Councilmember Margaret Chin.

In September, City Councilmember Margaret Chin celebrated a victory she had been working towards for more than a decade — the establishment of a business improvement district in Chinatown. The City Council unanimously approved the proposed BID, which had been opposed by a number of well-organized neighborhood advocacy organizations and a substantial number of property owners. Chin, who’s the first person of Chinese descent to represent Chinatown, expressed confidence that the BID would breath new economic life into a neighborhood that never fully recovered from 9/11.  The BID steering committee underwent an arduous approval process, which entailed contentious hearings before three community boards. The new organization is expected to be up-and-running in the spring.

 

6. “CHINATOWN BUS” ACCIDENTS

15 were killed when a tour bus overturned in the Bronx in March.

Several accidents involving interstate bus companies, including a horrible crash in the Bronx, that left 15 dead, prompted elected officials to step up efforts to regulate a rapidly growing industry.  Most, if not all of the victims of the Bronx tragedy, lived in Chinatown.  Legislation was introduced in Albany and in Washington, but went nowhere.  The city and state cracked down on discount bus operators, taking dozens of buses off the road. State and federal politicos said they would try again in the coming year to enact life-saving legislation.

 

7. PEDESTRIAN AND BICYCLIST DEATHS ON DELANCEY STREET

Patricia Cuevas was killed on Delancey Street, near essex, in May. Photo by Adrian Fussell.

At least two people (that we know of) were killed in traffic accidents on Delancey Street this year.  In May, 51-year old Patricia Cuevas, a pedestrian, was struck by a garbage truck, just east of the intersection with Essex Street. In August, Jeffrey Axelrod, a bicyclist, was hit by a truck, shortly after he had turned off of Chrystie Street.  Citing statistics showing Delancey is one of the most dangerous streets in the city, elected officials, safety advocates and even the NYPD called for increased protections for both pedestrians and cyclists.  In September, the Department of Transportation finally got around to installing “countdown clocks” on Delancey. The city is working on reconfiguring the center island coming off of the Williamsburg Bridge, a move that some believe will make the area even more dangerous. Three months ago, State Senator Daniel Squadron got city agencies and neighborhood “stakeholders” together to discuss possible safety improvements on Delancey Street. The senator’s “working group” convenes on a monthly basis.

 

8. BIALYSTOKER NURSING HOME SHUT DOWN

Protest outside the Bialystoker Nursing Home in August.

In August, employees and residents of the Bialystoker Nursing Home mobilized to fight the planned closure of the facility, a fixture on East Broadway for 80 years.  The home’s board of directors said financial pressures forced their hand.  The building was put up for sale and marketed as a development site for luxury apartments.  Before long, protesters directed their anger at Ira Mesiter, the board president, whose real estate company had purchased a neighboring building owned by the home for $1.5 million.  The State Attorney General is looking into whether the board acted properly.  Several preservation groups have appealed to the Landmarks preservation Commission to protect the art-deco building.

 

9. THE “DELANCEY UNDERGROUND” GOES PUBLIC

Architectural rendering courtesy: RAAD Studio/James Ramsey.

In September, James Ramsey and Daniel Barasch revealed their proposal to build a spectacular subterranean park in an abandoned trolley station below Delancey Street. The idea, dubbed the “Delancey Underground” or  The Low Line,” was inspired by the West Side’s newest tourist sensation: “The High Line.”  The park would utilize advanced solar technology to transmit ultraviolet light into the cavernous space. Community Board 3 liked the idea. So did the cash-strapped MTA.  In an infomercial of sorts posted on YouTube by the troubled transit agency a few weeks ago,  MTA official Peter Hine joked (or was he serious?) that a section of the abandoned station would be a great spot for a night club. The MTA is expected to put out a “request for proposals” in the not-too-distant future.  Meanwhile Ramsey and Barasch are fundraising to turn their bold vision into reality.

 

10. HURRICANE IRENE SHUTS DOWN THE NEIGHBORHOOD

Grand Street, near East River the day after Irene. Photo by Sarah Sheahan.

As August ended, New Yorkers were faced with something unusual: a hurricane bearing down on the metro area.  As it turned out, Irene didn’t pack much of a punch. But the city shut down the transportation system, which in turn, forced most businesses to close, as well.  The Category 1 storm still caused a fair amount of damage. Dozens of trees on the Lower East Side, including these at the East River Cooperative on Grand Street, were destroyed.