It was quick.
Graphic: Governor Cuomo’s Office
Andrew Cuomo sent another round of bulldozers into Battery Park on Monday, and the neighbors didn’t. Five days earlier, the governor had revealed the first renderings of the “Circle of Heroes”, dedicated to the sacrifice of New Yorkers working during the COVID-19 pandemic. “While we can never fully reimburse our essential workers, we can honor and celebrate them with this monument that will forever remain as a tribute,” he said in the announcement. “These heroes continue to inspire us every day and we are eternally grateful for their service and sacrifice.” But it’s also the third monument he’s built in Battery Park City in less than a year – the region’s $ 63 million art collection already includes a statue in honor of Catholic holy Mother Cabrini. and a memorial to the victims of Hurricane Maria – and a local coalition of financial consultants, emergency medics and soccer moms say “enough”. These newly created activists oppose the governor’s plans, not specifically against the monument itself, but rather to save green space and issue a referendum on the state’s ability to do whatever it wants with the southern tip. of Manhattan.
The design of the area, called Rockefeller Park, comes just three months after the governor announced he would build a $ 3 million COVID-19 monument, and it was a shock to residents to see how quickly the State officials worked to pave grasslands and uproot 40-year-old trees without even a public hearing. Residents said they are not opposed to the monument; they just don’t want it in their backyard without having a conversation. That’s because the proposed memorial would include 19 red maple trees, cover 3,000 square feet of parkland, and an open flame. “It’s unforgivable,” Margaret Chin said in an interview with Curbed, adding that she still hadn’t heard from Cuomo’s office about the project. “He should stop this memorial and really engage with residents and local elected officials to find a more appropriate location. We all want to honor essential workers, but why does it all have to be in New York City? It’s just because he doesn’t have to go through someone else’s jurisdiction in Battery Park.
Four local officials told Curbed the governor has passed his welcome in Battery Park City. Of the three projects he has built here, none have been built with any form of public engagement, although the governor’s office has continued to refer to an “open process” that consults with a selection of civic leaders. .
“While I think it’s appropriate to commemorate those lost to the pandemic, I think this draft was drafted too hastily and is little more than a gesture,” Chin wrote in a letter addressed to Cuomo earlier this week, urging the governor to stop construction. “The New Yorkers who have kept essential services running cannot be excluded from this dedication; everyone must have a voice in this project. Other politicians, including Congressman Jerrold Nadler and State Senator Brian Kavanaugh, sent their own letters oppose the project.
A group of residents told Curbed that they intended to press charges against the governor in an attempt to delay the monument. While most residents agree essential workers deserve dedication, they said the honor would be more appropriate at a relevant site. New Yorkers have previously suggested a tribute outside of Elmhurst Hospital in Queens (once the epicenter of the city’s outbreak) or further on Hart Island (city’s public cemetery).
However, opponents of the memorial may have little recourse to stop the governor’s plans, as the Battery Park City Authority, which administers the area on behalf of the state, is run entirely by people appointed by Cuomo. The president is the hotel magnate George J. Tsunis, who was the subject of a article 2018 At New York Time who revealed that he and his wife contributed over $ 180,000 to the governor’s re-election campaign and that Tsunis was appointed to authority just two weeks after hosting a ‘summer barbecue’ fundraiser for Cuomo .
Loyalty to the governor, and not to the residents they represent, worries local community board members like Eric Gyasi. He said authority leaders like Tsunis won’t have to live with their decisions because the majority of board members live outside the neighborhood. For example, project critics say introducing more hardscape to the area could cause drainage issues in what is one of the neighborhood’s worst floodplains. “Why can’t the governor take a week and resolve these issues with the residents so that the community has a monument that really supports essential workers? Asked Gyasi, who recently completed his term on the community council. “You can’t just chop up a tree or replant a stump once it’s removed. “
The governor’s office did not respond to questions emailed by Curbed, but Tsunis, in a statement, said his agency planned to contact neighbors to discuss the monument’s location and “make sure that it is optimal for the whole community “.
Over the weekend, dozens of families staked out the site of the monument and organized impromptu gatherings. Some even camped there on Monday night, during a heat wave, to make sure construction workers don’t secretly start plowing the grass. There are local WhatsApp group chats that have capped at 250 people, and a online petition which has accumulated more than 7,000 signatures, with a plea that “the rubbish of monuments on a green space formerly in our residential area reminds us daily of our sadness and that of our children who are already struggling emotionally”.
Normally, a permanent monument would have to go through the New York City Council and its Public Design Commission for approval, a process that often takes years and includes public comment and a design competition between artists. By comparison, Cuomo’s office expedited approvals via a closed committee that often fails to release budget numbers or the name of the selected artist before the unveiling. The governor still has not released information on who designed the monument to essential workers.
Meanwhile, critics are also attacking for cosmetic reasons. “It looks like a fucking bowling ball trophy or a participation prize,” said Theodore Grunewald, a prominent advocate for architecture, who also suggested the renderings look like a woman pulling her young child away from the open flame of the memorial. He added that it would be difficult for the monument to honor essential workers at a time when Cuomo faces charges and a FBI investigation to find out if he provided false data on nursing home deaths to the Department of Justice. “This is idiocy. It’s deeply irrelevant and does a disservice to first responders.
Growing reviews have had a snowballing effect, and little league sports teams and neighborhood kids are starting to write their own. letters to Cuomo, asking him to back off. Some longtime residents say Battery Park is ready to fight. “It was the last straw,” said Daniel Akkerman, a financial consultant who founded a nonprofit called Battery Alliance earlier this year to demand more transparency from the authority. On his website, the group accuses the agency of “blatant mismanagement”, in which “the enormous sums paid by the owners of the community are not spent on the community but rather are wasted on wasteful pork barrel spending projects.”
The monument’s unwelcome announcement comes as residents of Battery Park City are already starting to worry about the stability of their neighborhood. Apartment owners here say they are frustrated with the added costs associated with living in authority, such as land rent and civic fees. They are also increasingly concerned about the neighborhood’s 100-year ground lease, which expires in 2069. While that seems a long way off, it is getting close enough to inject a note of instability into any 30-year mortgage application. because if the land lease is not renewed, ownership of the land under all the apartments will revert to the State. Officials said they were working on a renewal, but nothing is being worked out.
Some essential workers tied to the region are also not thrilled with Cuomo’s plans. These include Rafael Torres, an emergency physician at White Plains Hospital who has helped lead the centre’s COVID-19 response and vaccination efforts. He said the demolition area is where his eldest daughter took her first steps, and it was a safe haven when he returned after grueling shifts at the hospital.
“It’s a red flag,” said Torres, who added that he had not been politically active in the neighborhood before the monument, but that he and others will continue their advocacy for residents. “It shows that things can be done on state land without any input from the community, and that we need to have a strong advocacy group that can negotiate for us.”