By Maria Rocha-Buschel
After 10 years of planning, environmental non-profit Solar One announced a timeline for the construction of the new, replacement educational center known as Solar 2 on Tuesday, ideally to be completed by the end of next year.
Dina Elkan, communications director for Solar One, said that the incentive to finish within that time frame is partially because city budget is fixed so the funding from elected officials needs to be used by then. One of the challenges will be the overlapping East Side Coastal Resiliency project but Elkan said that since it’s the same architectural firm working on both, the two projects will be coordinating throughout the process.
At a ceremonial groundbreaking on Tuesday, Solar One also acknowledged outgoing Councilmember Dan Garodnick’s commitment to the project from the beginning of his tenure at City Hall.
“When he was elected 12 years ago, he came here with his campaign manager and asked how he could help,” Solar One Executive Director Chris Collins said. “His vision and willingness to examine thorny problems makes him unique to the community.”
Garodnick said that allocating the funding for the project was an easy call.
“The challenges are that we’re in a flood zone,” he said. “We know because we lived in it. We remember what this community was like in the days, weeks and months following Sandy, when Lower Manhattan was without power. But there was one place with power: Solar One. This was resiliency in action.”
Borough President Gale Brewer, who was sporting a bandage on her forehead from a run-in with a DOT vehicle while getting out of a taxi recently, said that she has spoken with a number of residents from the East Side who were jealous of the work done on the West Side to increase waterfront access to the Hudson River.
“But Solar 2 is going to make the West Side look like nothing,” she said. “It’s more important than ever to learn and share information about the environment and this is one of Councilmember Garodnick’s legacy items.”
Solar One, an environmental center that outgrew its one-room structure early on, originally started planning the new building in 1997. It had already completed two design phases before Hurricane Sandy forced changes to the project because the flood plane had been moved.
“The rules changed so we could no longer have an occupied ground floor,” said Elkan. “The third design after Sandy was a passive house design, which was less beautiful than previous versions but more in keeping with the new rules.”
Community Board 6 member Gary Papush reflected on the space at 23rd Street east of the FDR Drive as it was in the 1980s, when it was a repository for unwanted cars. At that time, it almost became the site for a luxury development.
“Even the name ‘Riverwalk’ scares us now,” Papush said of the proposed property. “It was the only thing Koch and Dinkins ever agreed on, but I think that’s one fight that City Hall is glad that it lost.”
Riverwalk was supposed to be a 28-acre development of five luxury towers, each 32 to 47 stories, as well as a 12-story hotel, 10-story office building, shops, restaurants and parks, all across from Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper and built on a platform in the East River.
However, pressure from a community group doomed the development and the city agreed to allow a park in the space, so long as the community could find a way to fund it on its own. In response, local elected officials contributed to the pot and advocates helped establish Stuyvesant Cove Park.
Kai Bergman, a partner at BIG, the architectural firm working on Solar 2 and the ESCR, noted that the official beginning of construction for the project is especially poignant given the upcoming five-year anniversary for Hurricane Sandy.
“There was 13 feet of water right here where we’re standing,” he said. “Since Sandy, we’ve been looking at the entire coast and coming up with ways to think about resiliency that works as flood protection and also gives back to the city. This is the first piece of this long-term vision of what the Manhattan coastline can be.”