By Josh Rogers Downtown Express
The 12-year path to rebuilding the underground connection between the World Trade Center PATH station and Battery Park City ended Oct. 24, conveniently enough on perhaps the first brisk day of the fall. Commuters and residents could carry, rather than wear, their overcoats.
The reopening was celebrated by community leaders who attended the Thursday morning ceremony.
The walk from the W.T.C. trains to Battery Park City was never convenient, even before 9/11. “It was just messy and the route was changing all the time,” said Martha Gallo, a resident and member of the B.P.C. Authority board.
Pat Foye, executive director of the Port Authority, which rebuilt the underground concourse, said it was late in 2001 that the Port started imagining a better way to connect people to Downtown neighborhoods, commuter lines, subways and ferries.
“Our staff firmly believed that 9/11 gave us all a chance at a do-over from how their predecessors first designed the site more than 30 years before,” he said.
The bright white concourse with its high ceilings leads directly to the Winter Garden and its new front entrance, passing safely under the state roadway, West St. The connector will eventually be lined with stores, but those look to be at least a year away from opening.
The storefronts are now covered with oversized photos of people with quotes to “portray the essence and the spirit of New Yorkers,” said Greg Miles, the C.O.O. of the American division of Westfield Group, the Australian-based mall operator looking to fill 365,000 square feet of retail space at the W.T.C.
Miles said the mall will reopen in full in 2015 when the Santiago Calatrava-designed train station opens.
He also said the stores along the connector could open sooner, but there’s no plan yet to do that.
“It might open in stages, but it has yet to be determined,” he told Downtown Express.
The design by Calatrava, who did not attend the ceremony, was described with words like “stunning,” “iconic,” and “spectacular” by speakers and attendees at the event, though the famed Spanish architect’s name was only mentioned once though during the formal ceremony.
That may be related to his falling regard Downtown. When Calatrava unveiled his wing-shaped design ten years ago at the Winter Garden, he received a standing ovation, but over the last decade his name has inspired grumbles as the price tag doubled to $4 billion, and the intricate design made construction of the 9/11 memorial and adjacent office towers more complicated.
Catherine McVay Hughes, chairperson of Community Board 1, a first-hand witness to the design changes over the years said the concourse is “architecturally incredible with the Calatrava ribs, the arches, downstairs. It’s absolutely spectacular. This is a lot more airy and light,” she added of the Winter Garden’s new entrance, designed by Rafael Pelli.
George Calderaro, co-chairperson of C.B. 1’s Battery Park City Committee, said he now feels more connected to the rest of Lower Manhattan.
“The West Side Highway has always been a big dividing line, and the access all the way through to the transportation center on Fulton St.— it’s just going to be incredible,” he said.
Over the next year or so the Metropolitan Transportation Authority is expected to finish its narrower, underground connection from the Fulton Transit Center west into the Calatrava concourse.
West of the W.T.C. station, Pelli was thrilled to see people walk though the Winter Garden’s new front entrance.
“This is the moment that you live for as an architect,” he told Downtown Express, saying he first sketched drawings of the new Winter Garden in 2004 — three years after the collapsing trade center towers destroyed much of his father Cesar’s original design.
He said the new walkway will be noticed even more in the coming months.
“I know from experience being here in February, it’s really welcome having a climate-controlled walkway from the subways directly into the buildings,” he said. “It makes a huge difference.”
Pelli said he consulted with his father, now 87, on the new Winter Garden, owned by Brookfield Office Properies.
“A very open, grand public space was always at the heart of his idea,” Rafael said. “Even though there are private offices which make up most of this complex, he really wanted a sense of a public experience through this connection to the water.”
Pelli said the new World Trade Center design, literally puts the Winter Garden and the rest of Brookfield Place (formerly the World Financial Center) in a new light.
“Before it was hidden behind the plinth of the World Trade Center, and now it’s right on the front of this very active area of a new reimagined Downtown Manhattan — for all the wrong reasons,” he said, “but in many ways it’s created a stronger and a more vibrant city in the place of what used to be here.”