Pershing Square Plaza – New York City, New York
Grand Central Terminal sits on a well deserved perch among the architectural and civic treasures of New York City. Across the street, however, is a piece of infrastructure – really, a single block, that has been confoundingly difficult to redevelop.
As recently as a year ago this notice greeted people looking forward to seeing Pershing Square Plaza.
A New Vision for Pershing Square, 27 Years in the Making
BY DAVID W. DUNLAP APRIL 25, 2013 3:00 PM April 25, 2013 3:00 pm 22
How the city looks and feels — and why it got that way.
In 1987, the Grand Central Partnership proposed closing the underused southbound leg of Park Avenue between 42nd and 41st Streets, across from Grand Central Terminal’s main entrance, to create a landscaped pedestrian plaza that would turn Pershing Square from an afterthought into an amenity.
“What was envisioned here was a full-blown, fully designed, parklike public space,” Alfred C. Cerullo III, the president and chief executive of the partnership, said over coffee at the Pershing Square restaurant, which is tucked under the Park Avenue viaduct and looks out at the square. “It’s not just chairs and tables on a painted street.” Without missing a beat, he added, “Not that there’s anything wrong with that.”
The plaza plan calls for the sloping roadbed and sidewalk to be replaced by shallow terraces of asphalt and concrete paving stones, with granite curbs and steps. One of the terraces will be used by the restaurant as an outdoor cafe. Three honey locusts are to be planted at the north end of the plaza, near a “rain garden” of sedges, ferns, sweet flag and iris in which runoff water will be captured for reuse. At the south end will be two planting beds of miscanthus and fountain grass. The garden and one of the beds will be bordered with oak and steel benches.
The $2 million landscaping, designed by Quennell Rothschild & Partners, with engineering by URS, is part of a larger $13.5 million repair and replacement of city water and sewer lines under Park Avenue.
“As is quite often the case, behind what you see on the surface is a lot of infrastructure work,” said David J. Burney, commissioner of the Department of Design and Construction, which will develop the project for the Department of Transportation and the Grand Central Partnership and which anticipates opening contractors’ bids in May.
As it is now, the southbound leg is partly closed from April through October to accommodate the restaurant’s outdoor cafe. City officials are not worried that a permanent closing will congest traffic. In fact, they believe it may help eastbound traffic on 42nd by eliminating the bottleneck of motorists waiting to turn right on Park.
“Pershing Square has been a summer oasis for Midtown and this project will make it a year-round destination,” Janette Sadik-Khan, the transportation commissioner, said in a statement. “The area around Grand Central is a real neighborhood and the local community supported the vision that our streets need to do more than just get you from place to place. They also need room where you can do something as simple as stop, enjoy a cup of coffee and take a fresh look at old New York.”
This was precisely the idea laid out by the partnership in its 1987 prospectus, “New Life for a Midtown Business District.” It recommended the eviction of the “low-end” discount store under the viaduct and its replacement by “a glass-walled street cafe,” which turned out to be Pershing Square, the restaurant. The report called for closing Park Avenue from 42nd Street to 40th Street and creating a “pedestrian park, with new paving, trees, planting, lights and seating.”
Mr. Cerullo said the idea, formed when Edward I. Koch was mayor, lay dormant through a less-than-sympathetic mayoral regime (he named no names) and hatched during the Bloomberg administration, after the restaurant had demonstrated its success in drawing diners to the once-forlorn viaduct.
“You got the feel of what public space and usage could be,” he said. “The cafe business went into the post-work hours. People were having cocktails waiting for their trains and having business meetings in the middle of Park Avenue. It was very exciting.”
Mr. Cerullo already has his eye on another objective: closing the leg of Park Avenue east of the viaduct. In the meanwhile, the city plans to relocate the airport bus stop that operates there and install a large bicycle rental station.
A version of this article appears in print on 04/26/2013, on page A28 of the NewYork edition with the headline: Plan for Plaza In a Square Was Shaped Years Ago.