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Artists and Businessmen Protest PATH Extensions
By Robert Kahn STAFF WRITER June 7, 2002

A coalition of artists and businesspeople is protesting the Port Authority's vision for the future of their neighborhood PATH stations because, the group says, it shows no respect for Greenwich Village's storied past.

The Christopher Street Preservation Alliance argues that construction at two stations would create traffic bottlenecks by widening sidewalks and could damage historic buildings like the Lucille Lortel Theatre or the Stonewall Inn, site of the 1969 uprising that gave birth to the gay rights movement. "It's a little like trying to destroy the Place de la Bastille," said author Edmund White. "The Stonewall is the single most important location in the gay imagination."

The Port Authority this summer plans to build underground walkways at the Christopher Street and Ninth Street stations. The new mezzanines, 75 feet by 25 feet, would ease congestion for emergency evacuations, the PA says. The plan calls for a new street-level entrance at each of the stations - work that would narrow Christopher Street by four feet in front of each set of stairs.

The new entrances are planned for the southeast corner of Christopher and Bedford streets and the southeast corner of Christopher and Waverly at the Ninth Street station.

But 24 prominent artists - including White, playwrights Edward Albee and Tony Kushner and choreographer Bill T. Jones - have written to Gov. George Pataki, urging him to halt the project. The Port Authority counters that the work is necessary to ensure public safety. "Right now, there's only one way to get in and out of both of those stations," said Port Authority spokesman Steve Coleman. "If two trains come in and discharge at the same time, it could take 18 minutes for everybody to get out in an emergency. A second entrance and exit would allow people to get out in about seven."

Coleman said the street space that would be taken up by the new entrances would eat into what is now parking space and would not impede traffic.

He said the PA would make restitution to anybody whose property might be damaged - a fear expressed by George Forbes of the Lucille Lortel Theatre Foundation. The project could damage the building's foundation or the $250,000 "Playwrights Sidewalk," Forbes said.

The PA has hired preservation consultants Higgins & Quasebarth to evaluate alternate entrances. Construction, a nine-month project, is to begin in early July, so the work will not hamper the Gay Pride Parade on June 30, officials said.

Copyright © 2002, Newsday, Inc.

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