Essential Workers Monument on Ice

Battery Park City Authority stops Cuomo’s plans after community opposition over lack of input

| 14 Jul 2021 | 10:43

Neighborhood advocates and politicians joined in an impromptu celebration at the Irish Hunger Memorial Monday afternoon after the state-led Battery Park City Authority announced it would halt the governor’s plans to build a monument honoring essential workers in the Downtown neighborhood after weeks of community activism in opposition to the project residents said lacked their input.

“[The BPCA] announced that they will begin a true community engagement process to determine the location and design of a monument to essential workers,” said Rep. Jerry Nadler, who was credited by his fellow elected officials in supporting the movement to secure a public process. “The process of determining how we as a people will honor those who matter most to us is one that takes thoughtful reflection.”

For now, the project has been put on ice while the state convenes an advisory committee that will include community leaders and essential worker representatives to help decide the design and ultimate location, according to a statement from George Tsunis, who chairs the BPCA.

“Over the past two weeks we have heard two things clearly and consistently: the love that our community harbors for its parks and public spaces, and its desire to honor the enduring efforts of essential workers over the course of the Covid-19 pandemic,” Tsunis said in a statement released earlier in the day Monday. “Through this active and unprecedented feedback loop, we have also heard the community’s concerns about the proposed Essential Workers Monument, listened to those concerns, and incorporated that feedback into the decision making process with the Governor’s Office, essential workers, and other stakeholders.”

Intense Backlash

The initial proposal – a $3 million “Circle of Heroes” that would have included 19 red maple trees and a burning “eternal flame” – was met with an intense backlash when in late June Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced his plans to have the project completed by Labor Day. Residents lambasted the lack of a public process in deciding the design of the memorial as well as its location, which was initially plotted for Rockefeller Park. Still, since the BPCA is a state entity and not governed by the city’s typical land use process, the project was to go ahead until families, angered by the loss of some of the neighborhood’s limited green space the project would cause, camped out at the site to block bulldozers from breaking ground.

Last week, the BPCA pitched an alternate site for the monument, adjacent to the Irish Hunger Memorial, which was also met with opposition.

The previous Labor Day deadline for the project has also been abandoned.

“Given time our community leaders and essential workers will guide us to the right place,” Nadler said at the rally. “Instead, we have unity and purpose to be able to honor our essential workers with a monument full of meaning and that reflects the enormous gratitude of our community.”

“You Did This!”

Nadler was joined Monday by Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, Assembly Member Yuh-Line Niou, state Sen. Brian Kavanaugh, Community Board 1 Chair Tammy Meltzer, and Democratic nominee for Council District 1 Christopher Marte.

The local leaders all applauded the community for showing up and fighting back against a process that they felt was rushed and ill-considered.

“You did this!” Niou said to the group of about 50 Battery Park City residents in attendance. “Right now, we have a conversation that is ongoing. We are pushing for an ongoing commitment for future transparency and community involvement with every single thing that has to do with land use in Battery Park City. This is something we have been fighting for for a very long time and is desperately needed.”

Meltzer commended the family and children who camped out at the site to prevent the construction.

“Thanks to the children who pitched tents in front of backhoes so they couldn’t take out trees,” said the CB1 chair. “And thanks to all of the residents who came out to say, ‘We need our open space and this was a closed process that shouldn’t be.’ Public memorials and monuments deserve a public process that uplifts the voices of neighbors, workers, designers, and visitors.”

Marte, who is likely to become the district’s next Council member, was passionate in his remarks, thanking the residents for their engagement on the issue.

“You could have stopped right after you won the Rockefeller Park pausing of the saws. You could have stopped when they decided to use this location for the next memorial site,” Marte said, gesturing to the space adjacent to the Irish Hunger Memorial. “But you stood up and said, ‘Governor, you will not pit community backyards against memorials.’ You said, ‘You will not pit memorials to essential workers against the Irish Hunger Memorial.’ You said, ‘We’re not going to pit northern Battery Park City residents against southern Battery Park City residents.’ You said, ‘We are here, united as a community to have a voice, and what happens in our community needs our input.’”

“We are pushing for an ongoing commitment for future transparency and community involvement with every single thing that has to do with land use in Battery Park City.” Assembly Member Yuh-Line Niou