Waterside celebrates 40th anniversary

By Sabina Mollot

On Thursday night, hundreds gathered at Waterside Plaza for a celebration of the complex’s 40th anniversary that included a concert by the George G. Orchestra, dancing under the stars and a fireworks display over the East River.

Waterside owner Richard Ravitch, between schmoozing with tenants and local politicians, said he never could have imagined the evening’s landmark celebration when, close to 50 years ago, he was trying to convince city officials that the building of a four-tower complex east of the FDR Drive would be a good thing.

“Never in the world,” he said. But he kept pushing for the plans and eventually succeeded in getting federal legislation passed so that Waterside’s buildings could be constructed directly over the water.

“(Mayor) Lindsay was excited about this,” recalled Ravitch. For a while, he noted, Waterside also rented apartments to the FBI “so they could eavesdrop on North Korea.” These days, Waterside is home to 4,000 people, including 200 employees of the United Nations, and there are also two onsite private schools, United Nations International School and British International School of New York.

Over the years, Ravitch said the biggest challenge of running the property is staying on top of its upkeep.

“If you do this responsibly, you have to preserve the infrastructure, even if it means less money in your pocket.”

Ravitch lives uptown rather than at Waterside, explaining, “Every time I raise the rent, some tenants get… unhappy. So it’s never a good idea.” Tenants seemed receptive to the landlord on Thursday though, even greeting him with cheers when he addressed the crowd briefly to discuss the history of the complex and the land it was built on.

He noted the fact that Waterside, the first property to be built east of the FDR Drive, was designed by Lewis Davis, whose son Peter Davis is today the general manager of the property. When introducing him, Ravitch said, “When I was dabbling significantly in public service, I knew I’d have to find an extraordinary person who could raise tenants’ rents, but remain beloved by tenants. That person turned out to be the son of the genius who designed Waterside.”

Ravitch also had words of praise for Waterside Tenants Association President Janet Handal. Though he admitted she “gives me agita several times a year,” he also called her a tough leader for tenants.

He then went on to discuss how long before Waterside was even a concept, the area that now houses the four-tower complex was an important part of international history. In the 1940s, when the United States was trying to help the British with supplies, the ships they were delivered in, which could not return to the U.S. empty, used rubble from the ground in English city of Bristol as ballast. That rubble was then emptied in the area that now houses Waterside before the ships would take on more supplies. Waterside management was made aware of this bit of history a couple of years ago through the English Speaking Union and now has a plaque on the Plaza to commemorate it.

Also joining Ravitch to discuss the history were a couple of special guests, Edwina Sandys, the granddaughter of Winston Churchill, and Ava Roosevelt, the widow of William Roosevelt, David Roosevelt’s half-brother. Local politicians also appeared at the event, including Borough President Scott Stringer, State Senator Brad Hoylman, Assembly Member Brian Kavanagh, Council Member Dan Garodnick and Council Member (and borough president Democratic primary winner) Gale Brewer.

Along with the brief ceremony, the evening included complimentary hot dogs and burgers grilled outside on the Plaza, music, dancing as well as dance performances by the Syncopated City Dance Company, a video tribute to the complex and entertainment for kids.

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