By Sabina Mollot
Waterside Plaza, the four-tower complex on the East River owned by former Lieutenant Governor Richard Ravitch, will celebrate its 40th birthday on Thursday, September 19.
A party will be held outside on the plaza with music, food and a video tribute, and according to management, “ a few surprises.” Originally, the event was scheduled for September 12, but was postponed due to the weather.
This week, Ravitch spoke to Town & Village about the years leading up to the property being built. At that time, he had a major challenge on his hands when presenting the idea of a development to be constructed directly on the water to the city and the public.
“Everything about it was revolutionary,” he said. “It was a social experiment. We were going to have families of various incomes. We didn’t know we’d have to get a law passed by Congress to make it doable (to build on the river).”
Additionally, he recalled, residents of nearby Peter Cooper Village were opposed to the idea, over concerns new buildings might block their own views of the river.
Waterside is situated east of the FDR Drive between 25th and 30th Streets. To build the complex, 2,000 concrete pilings were placed 80 feet into the bed of the river. Each tower ranges from 31 to 37 stories and all together, there are 1,470 apartments.
The designer of the buildings was Lewis Davis, whose son Peter, coincidentally, is now the property’s general manager. Along with closeup views of the river, Waterside has doormen, a gym with a pool, a landscaped plaza for the use of the public where summer concerts, movies and dance performances take place and a retail strip. Two private schools are also located onsite, British International School of New York and United Nations International School. Waterside was for many years in the Mitchell-Lama program. It expired in 2001 and today, some residents pay market rent while others, who lived there before 2001, live under a “settling agreement,” which gives them a rent increase of 4.25 percent every year.
The towers as well as a number of adjoining townhouses are home to 4,000 residents and Ravitch called it “a wonderful community” due to the award-winning architecture and the diversity of the tenant population. (Two hundred are United Nations employees and residents come from 62 different countries.)
“It’s a little further away from the subway than some people would prefer, but that’s the only reason everybody doesn’t clamor to be at Waterside,” said Ravitch.
To deal with the transportation issue, a few years ago, Waterside began offering free shuttle bus services to tenants to local subway stops.
While residents and management sometimes clash over issues, Ravitch said overall the tenants have been happy with the way the place is run and currently, their real only beef is with the city. This would be over plans to build a sanitation garage across from the pedestrian bridge from Waterside over the FDR Drive to First Avenue and 25th Street.
When asked for his take on the garage, Ravitch, who at one time headed the MTA, said, “I’ve spent so much of my life in public service… so if the city says they’re going to have a garage there, I can’t argue with it.” Instead, he said the city needs to take the residents into consideration when building it directly across from the property’s main entrance and exit.
“When you have 4,000 tenants and two schools directly involved, there should have been more consultation,” he said. He also said the city shouldn’t build in the parcels of the property located west and east of the garage site. “Those should be community uses.” In a related issue, Ravitch called on the city to make the pedestrian bridge, which is public property, handicapped accessible.
Janet Handal, who’s the president of the Waterside Tenants Association, also weighed in on the development’s landmark anniversary.
Recalling the effort that went into getting the place built, Handal, who moved there in 1974, said, “It shows you the finesse of Richard Ravitch in putting it all together and Lew Davis, too. The guy really wired this and it was not an easy thing to wire. It’s a great community, a beautiful place. It’s like a small town really.”