Construction of new pedestrian plaza between Fulton Mall and the Brooklyn
Marriott hotel could begin as early as May, city officials said this week.
But experts caution that unless the depressing retail mix along Willoughby
Street between Pearl and Adams streets is changed, the new plaza won’t
“There has to be cafes and lively retail that lets people relax,”
said Vanessa Gruen, director of special projects at the Municipal Arts
Society. “A space needs something that will make it a destination,
not just a pass-through.”
That “something” never made a destination of the large pedestrian
plaza a few blocks northeast of Willoughby Street — a commons area
at the center of Forest City Ratner’s Metrotech office campus.
Though well-maintained and safe, the planter-bedecked Metrotech plaza
feels more like a parking lot with benches than a vibrant public space.
The Willoughby Street plaza would be managed by the Metrotech Business
Community Board 2 voted this week to endorse the project, which would
close the Willoughby Street block to vehicular traffic and place tables,
chairs, benches and bike racks over the streetbed, possibly revitalizing
what has long been a “dead zone.”
“At times [it has] been a difficult battle pushing the Department
of Transportation to put human beings ahead of motor vehicles,” Aaron
Naperstek, project director for the non-profit Open Planning Project,
said at Tuesday’s CB2 hearing, at St. Francis College in Brooklyn
“The Willoughby-Adams pedestrian plan represents a small, but significant,
change in these priorities,” he said.
Downtown Brooklyn planners and DOT officials believe the drab Willoughby
Street block could be Brooklyn’s Bryant Park — a flower-studded
space where workers and students linger over coffee, or take in the sunshine
before descending into the nearby train station at Jay Street.
“With development, some of it large-scale, coming to Downtown, we
need open space and places for students and workers to hang out,”
said Mike Weiss, president of the Metrotech BID.
The new village green, which has been in the works since Downtown’s
upzoning in 2004, is part of a larger effort by local businesses to attract
new developers to an area that some want to see gentrified.
Two blocks south of the Willoughby Plaza, on Red Hook Lane in the Fulton
Mall, Muss Development is planning a luxury tower. And just north of soon-to-be-plaza,
Marriott is constructing a 24-story glass annex to its Adams Street hotel,
where the light frequently shines “No Vacancy.”
Like the Bryant Park BID, the Metrotech BID plans to hold concerts in
the plaza and rent space to vendors for farmer’s markets and art
One supporter of the plan said that he believed the green space would
increase the value of his nearby residential co-op.
But it won’t do that unless the mall can retain its traffic —
without the cars.
“It will attract more investment only if the retail can bring in
people, without the visibility that cars bring,” said Marya Morris,
senior researcher at the American Planning Association.
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