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CORTLANDT - the street that was but isn't - may not be again.

By DAVID W. DUNLAP November 24, 2005 
 Advancing its retail plans for the new World Trade Center, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey released renderings last week of a new passage where Cortlandt Street once ran, between Church and Greenwich Streets. They showed a multilevel, glass-walled shopping galleria called Cortlandt Way instead of a regular thoroughfare.

A strong planning tenet after 9/11 was that much of the old street grid obliterated by the trade center superblock in the 1960's ought to be restored, reconnecting the site with the rest of Lower Manhattan.

It seems certain now that several lost streets will return. But how public will they be? Since security dictates the wide separation of roadways from potential targets, it is hard to believe that any of the streets within the site will be open to unregulated traffic in the foreseeable future, even if they are not enclosed.

Enclosing a street raises even more issues. And City Hall is not yet convinced.

Deputy Mayor Daniel L. Doctoroff said a galleria would diminish views to and from the 9/11 memorial. Joined to structures on Liberty and Dey Streets, it would create an unbroken two-block wall, he said. And it would be crossed by elevated walkways. "We generally frown upon bridges over the streets," Mr. Doctoroff said.

He said the authority had tried to respond to the city's concerns by enclosing the galleria in glass and recessing its facade, but he added, "We still have a lot of work to do."

Cortlandt Street was not ceded to the city by the authority in the Nov. 24, 2004, redevelopment agreement that returned Fulton and Greenwich Streets to municipal control. Instead, its fate was left to "be determined through mutual agreement."

City planners did not want a repeat of the underground trade center concourse, which drew shoppers - and vitality - from surrounding sidewalks. The authority is using the galleria to meet a goal in the agreement that 50 percent of retail space at the site be placed aboveground and to solve problems of light, wind and security posed by having two very tall towers less than 50 feet apart.

Cortlandt Way would be a counterpart to the Winter Garden in the World Financial Center, said Charles A. Gargano, the vice chairman of the authority. It would be a hub in a five-level, 505,000-square-foot shopping complex radiating through and under office towers on Church Street and the new PATH terminal.

The prospect of enlivening Church Street may temper some opposition to a galleria. "The natural predilection of the civic community is that streets should remain open," said Petra Todorovich, a senior planner at the Regional Plan Association. "On the other hand, we've been very supportive of the role retail can play in the revitalization of Lower Manhattan. We're not ruling out the Port Authority's proposal at all."

Cortlandt Street, from Broadway to the Hudson River, was given to the city in 1733 by Frederick Van Cortlandt and others. (Yes, that is a bell ringing. He later built Van Cortlandt Mansion on the family estate that is now Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx.) Robert Fulton's steamboat departed from the foot of Cortlandt Street. Herman Melville lived there as a boy. In the 20th century, the west end became an electronics marketplace called Radio Row.

The block between Church and Greenwich Streets was home to the Cortlandt Building of the Hudson Terminal complex, predecessor to PATH; Peter Henderson & Company, a famous gardening store; Volk's restaurant; and Syms men's apparel, whose proprietor, Sy Syms, was an outspoken trade center opponent.

Cortlandt Street was the site of the first property acquired for the trade center in 1965, the first building torn down for the center in 1965 and the earliest construction in 1966.

THEN, three blocks of it were wiped out. A line drawn along its route would have run through 4 World Trade Center, 2 World Trade Center (the south tower) and 3 World Trade Center (the Marriott hotel).

After the attack, once the tower footprints were ruled out as a development site, there was no chance of recreating the west end. But in 2003, by a vote of 36 to 2, Community Board 1 called for the east end to be "a public open street lined with street-level retail establishments."

Madelyn Wils, a member of the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation board, who was then chairwoman of the community board, said: "I always felt that Cortlandt Street should be open. Open as a view corridor. Open in a friendly, pedestrian way. Open - even if not in our lifetime - to vehicular traffic."

A galleria would frustrate physical and visual connections and send an ominous planning signal about Fulton and Greenwich Streets, said Fredric M. Bell, executive director of the New York chapter of the American Institute of Architects.

"If, little by little, the streets get closed as easily as the Port Authority assumes Cortlandt Street will be closed," he said, "the big streets will be next."
http://www.nytimes.com/2005/11/24/nyregion/24blocks.html 

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