By Maria Rocha-Buschel
Project architects have released renderings for Solar One’s new building that will be replacing the environmental organization’s original structure along the East River across from Peter Cooper Village within the next two years. The Economic Development Corporation, the city agency overseeing the project, presented the plan to Community Board 6’s land use and waterfront committee on January 22.
Although the project has been referred to as “Solar 2,” the new building will fully replace the organization’s original structure and the renderings show a “Solar One” sign on the building’s western face. According to the presentation, construction on Solar 2 is expected to be completed before the start of 2019 and construction on the additional flood protection in Stuyvesant Cove Park, which is part of the East Side Coastal Resiliency (ESCR) project, won’t begin until 2021 or 2022. The ESCR project includes a combination of berms and flood walls to protect the nearby neighborhoods from a possible flood event, and since Solar One’s building is expected to be operational before construction begins for the ESCR, that flood protection will be built around the new structure.
Felix Ceballos, a senior project manager for EDC, said that the agency has been working on this ongoing project with Solar One since 2002 and the plans have gone through multiple design phases, including in 2008 and then in 2013 after Hurricane Sandy. Project architect Jenny Dudgeon said that Sandy “brought resiliency into the conversation” since the building is in the northern end of the ESCR project, as well as in a flood zone. Solar One’s new building was designed by Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG), the architecture firm that has also designed the plans for the ESCR project.
Floorplans for the new building show two classrooms for workshops, office space and a gallery space, as well as storage rooms for educational equipment, events and for kayaks. The building will have two levels, including a roof terrace that will be used for educational activities in addition to the classrooms, as well as a kayak launch leading into the East River.
One Community Board member expressed concern about the possibility of “after hours” events in the event spaces at the new building, but Solar One executive director Chris Collins clarified that “after hours” referred to events happening after regular daytime classes at the center are over, and which Solar One has already done previously.
“It wouldn’t be like a bar but it would be similar to events in the park that end around 9 or 10 p.m.,” he said, noting that the café wouldn’t be applying for a liquor license but may have some alcoholic beverages available at the events. “We’ve gotten beer and wine permits from Community Board 6 in the past and would probably do the same for these events.”
Another Community Board member questioned the necessity of the kayak launch included in the plans especially given the increase in ferry activity expected in the area within the next few years.
“Five years ago, we were approached to do kayak days and this is one of the few protected areas (in New York’s waterways) because it’s a cove,” Collins said. “They were very successful and from that, the community board gave feedback that they wanted a kayak dock.”
Dudgeon also noted that there will be at least a thousand feet of space between the ferries and the kayaks, giving each of the boats enough space to co-exist.
Collins said that the total budget for the project is $5.2 million and it was funded over the last seven to eight years through a variety of revenue sources, including the mayor’s office and the borough president, as well as through funding from former Councilmember Dan Garodnick.
Ceballos also noted at the meeting that construction will begin soon for the ferry landing at East 20th Street and Stuyvesant Cove, but no further specific information about the work was available.