East River Waterfront group takes shape News

| 04 Aug 2015 | 02:04

The South Street Initiative, which began last fall as a gaggle of civic-minded New Yorkers concerned about the future of the East River waterfront, is now set to incorporate as the South Street East River Community Development Corporation.

Victor Papa, who as president of the Two Bridges Neighborhood Association is spearheading the initiative, said there are no drawbacks to organizing as a non-profit community development corporation, and that the model actually allows the organization to initiate economic development projects and makes it easier for the organization to receive government funding.

The move comes after a series of meetings with community leaders and -- more recently -- city officials, including Deputy Mayor for Housing and Economic Development Alicia Glen. The initiative is now pushing for a meeting with the city’s Economic Development Corporation, where, according to Papa, they’ll ask the agency for control over rent revenue earned from city-owned space along the East River, such as Basketball City, which is located on a pier owned by the Dept. of Small Business Services.

“We’re not asking to take away city funding, we’re actually participating in the improvement of the waterfront,” said Papa. “Which is actually the city’s responsibility, but we want to do it. We want to involve residents.”

Although the South Street Initiative began in 2012 as a series of discussions between Papa and other community stakeholders and organizations, they held their inaugural meeting less than a year ago in September 2014.

In the short term, the initiative is asking residents of the East River waterfront to sign a letter of support, the gist of which is that soon-to-be-christened South Street East River CDC is the vehicle by which the East River will be rejuvenated and rendered equitable for all residents.

According to a draft of the letter provided to this newspaper, the new organization will create a single, fair and comprehensive plan to coordinate land use, planning and development along the waterfront. That plan will include resiliency measures and green infrastructure, and foster small business incubation while establishing open space and properly stewarding publicly-owned facilities for maximum use by the entire community.

The ultimate goal, said Papa, is to unite the Lower East Side with other waterfront communities below the Brooklyn Bridge, which he characterized as an artificial boundary.

Such an undertaking requires uniting a wide array of economic and commercial interests, from the Howard Hughes Corporation’s redevelopment of the South Street Seaport and Extell’s massive 250 South Street project to low income residents in the various public housing developments that dot the Lower East Side.

“What we have undertaken is a task that’s not easy to do,” said Papa. “There are different conversations that have to happen.”

Papa said that at a recent community meeting, a resident of Two Bridges urged the organization not to improve the waterfront, because doing so would invite gentrification.

“And there’s a certain truth to that,” said Papa. “The initiative’s role would be to give everyone a voice in that conversation, and insure that whatever improvements are made to the waterfront are for the equal benefit of everyone.”