The BroadsheetDAILY ~ News of Lower Manhattan ~ 12/16/19 –

Posted By on December 17, 2019

Cuomo Administration Decides on South Cove for Mother Cabrini Memorial

The planting bed, south of South Cove, that the administration of Governor Andrew Cuomo has selected as the site for a memorial to Mother Cabrini.

On Friday, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo announced that a planned memorial to Mother Cabrini a 19th-century Italian-American who founded more than 60 organizations to help New Yorks needy, and later became the first naturalized U.S. citizen to be canonized a Catholic saint will be sited in the planting beds south of South Cove, the Battery Park City inlet at the foot of South End Avenue.

This memorial will honor the legacy of Mother Cabrini a great New Yorker and Italian-American and the Commission chose a site that perfectly symbolizes her commitment to helping new Americans settle in the United States, Mr. Cuomo said in a statement. We want this memorial to pay tribute to the charity and goodwill she spread to countless others in her lifetime.

The symbolism Mr. Cuomo was alluded to stems from the fact that South Cove looks out on the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, locations that are deeply resonant for American immigrants. The commission he referred to was a panel the Governor appointed in October to decide on a site for this memorial, and recruit artists to design it. This panel includes no residents from Battery Park City, although George Tsunis, the chairman of the Battery Park City Authority (BPCA) is a member.

Fridays development followed a discussion earlier in the week at the Battery Park City Committee of Community Board 1 (CB1), in which chair Tammy Meltzer asked Nick Sbordone, the Authoritys vice president of communications and public affairs, whether an upcoming meeting of the BPCA board, will be confirming final details for either the Mother Cabrini memorial or the Hurricane Maria memorial?

This was a reference to another monument planned by Mr. Cuomo, commemorating Puerto Rican victims of the 2017 storm that claimed thousands of lives on that island. As with the Mother Cabrini memorial, the Hurricane Maria plan began with a press release, followed by the appointment of a commission to select a location and preside over a design competition. (The panel for the Hurricane Maria shrine does include one Battery Park City resident, Elizabeth Velez.)

Mr. Cuomo appears to have settled on Battery Park City for his recent spurt of memorial building, at least in part, because it is one of the few areas of New York City that, as chief executive of the State government, he controls directly. The Lower Manhattan locations also effectively guarantee significant media coverage and public visibility for both projects.

A schematic showing the site, between the Museum of Jewish Heritage (left) and South Cove (right).

In the case of the Mother Cabrini Memorial, it also offered Mr. Cuomo the further inducement of snubbing Mayor Bill de Blasio, with whom he has an acrimonious relationship. Mr. Cuomos announcement, timed to coincide with the Columbus Day Parade, followed a decision by the de Blasio administration to erect statues to seven women who had made significant contributions to New Yorks history. Although many additional statues of memorial to women are planned by City Hall, Mother Cabrini was not included in the first round of honorees.

Mr. Sbordone answered that while some details around timing and final location were still to be determined, we know that the Maria Memorial will be either at the Chambers Street overlook or at Esplanade Plaza.

Ms. Meltzer countered by asking, does the community get to have any kind of say in this conversation, or the chance to weigh in?

Always, Mr. Sbordone replied, in a reference to the BPCAs concerted effort in recent years to increase transparency, consult with residents on major decisions, and include community leaders in planning. Whether this commitment is shared by the Cuomo administration, however, remains an open question.

But we did a resolution saying we didnt want it in Battery Park City, Ms. Meltzer noted. This measure, enacted last December, observed that, all public land within Battery Park City has already been designated for uses on which the community relies; that, Battery Park City has more memorials per square foot than any other neighborhood in New York City; and that, there are numerous locations within the State that could be better suited to locate the Hurricane Maria Memorial than Battery Park City.

The same resolution called upon Mr. Cuomo to set up, a process [of] communication and transparency with the community prior to the placement of any new memorials in Battery Park City or anywhere else in Lower Manhattan. Neither of the commissions overseeing the planned memorials ever held a single public meeting, invited comment from residents, or liaised in any way with CB1 before the decisions to locate their respective memorials within Battery Park City were announced.

Mr. Sbordone answered, that resolution asked for representation on the commission and that the BPCA not pay for it.

Ms. Meltzer rejoined that, the representation on the commission has never bothered to come to a CB1 meeting and is someone who does business with both the City and the State. This was a reference to the fact that Ms. Velez is trusted confidante of the Governors, who served on the board of the Committee to Save New York, a controversial and secretive organization started by Mr. Cuomo in 2010, which was comprised mainly of real estate developers, bankers and lobbyists. The group was the States top lobbying spender in 2011 and 2012, but Mr. Cuomo shut it down the following year, after critics pointed to close ties between donors and State government. Ms. Velez also operates a construction contracting company that does business with both City Hall and Albany. According the multiple sources with direct knowledge of the situation, Mr. Cuomo promised Ms. Velez a seat on the board of the Battery Park City Authority in 2016, but her appointment did not go through, for reasons that never became public.

Ms. Meltzer continued, they never actually bothered to come to a BPCA or CB1 meeting to get any type of community input. So, from our perspective, there has been little to no engagement.

Were looking at this from a community perspective, she added. Can you tell me where in Battery Park City there is a memorial to anybody who lived in Battery Park City and was lost on September 11, 2001? There is nothing here that represents the residents who were here on September 11. And yet, theres a hurricane memorial coming. It could beautiful, and Im sure it will be very interesting. But it would be nice if the community got to have some input on the final two selections.

Justine Cuccia, who serves as co-chair of CB1s Battery Park City Committee, noted that Esplanade Plaza (along with the Chambers Street overlook, one of two locations proposed for the Hurricane Maria Memorial), is the location of a volleyball court that the community uses, and is also used for dances and events.

Mr. Sbordone responded that, one of the benefits of having BPCA staff involved is that we are constantly reminding folks that this is a residential community.

Ms. Meltzer pressed, adding another thing at that location is not ideal. We havent seen what it looks like, or the scope and size, and there could be infrastructure changes. The concerns about usage and location are very real. And were out of that decision-making loop, or even conversations

An illustration of one proposal for the Hurricane Maria Memorial planned for Battery Park City, in which a statue that resembles a house submerging into the Esplanade is meant to illustrate the plight of the storms victims in Puerto Rico.

A further concern about both planned memorials is cost. The Cuomo administration has announced budgets of $700,000 for the Hurricane Maria project, and $750,000 for the Mother Cabrini monument. Given that these amounts are a fraction of the cost needed merely to repair several existing pieces of public art and infrastructure within Battery Park City in recent years, whether those budgets are realistic remains an open question. Examples of costlier projects from the BPCAs 2019 budget include $2.5 million to redesign the Police Memorial, $3 million to repaint the Tribeca Pedestrian Bridge, and $1.6 million for design and installation of way-finding signage. In 2018, the BPCA hired a contractor to repair the Pylons public art piece (alongside North Cove Marina) and the illuminated glass benches surrounding the Irish Hunger Memorial for $595,000, and estimated that restoration of the dozen-plus other public art pieces in the community could cost hundreds of thousands of additional dollars in the near future. (The BPCA recently appraised the value of its entire public art collection at approximately $63 million.)

Battery Park City activists and leaders have a record of opposing plans for additional memorials that they believed conflicted with the interests of the community. These include successfully derailing proposals to locate two relics of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 with the community: the so-called Survivors Staircase (a flight of 38 steps that once led from Vesey Street to the World Trade Center plaza above) and the Sphere (a metal globe sculpture originally located on plaza between the Twin Towers, and heavily damaged when they collapsed). Both were initially slated for relocation to sites within Battery Park City. But each was instead incorporated into plans for the new World Trade Center complex when the community objected to these proposals.

But State officials have an equally long record of vetoing these concerns and locating within the community monuments that often seem calculated to curry favor with politically significant constituencies. One illustrative case in point is the Irish Hunger Memorial, which was dedicated in 2002, at the corner of North End Avenue and Vesey Street, in spite of the fact that Battery Park City has little discernible connection to the history of New Yorks Irish-American community.

The same template may apply to the planned memorials for Hurricane Maria and Mother Cabrini, in that Battery Park City has scant significance in the narratives of Puerto Rican or Italian-American immigrants to New York. As Ninfa Segarra, a Battery Park City resident who once served as Deputy Mayor, and more recently chaired the Battery Park City Committee of Community Board 1, noted, as one of the few Puerto Ricans who live in Battery Park City, I think placing a Memorial here is ridiculous. The Governor should identify who in the Puerto Rican community asked that it be placed here.

Matthew Fenton

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The BroadsheetDAILY ~ News of Lower Manhattan ~ 12/16/19 -

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