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Plan Chosen for Redesign of a Plaza at 55 Water St. New York Times, Saturday, September 21, 2002

Amid the canyons of the financial district, it is hard to imagine how one could conceal an acre of public space that offered daylight, harbor breezes and a gull’s-eye view of the East River waterfront.

But the builders of 55 Water Street, New York City’s largest office tower, managed the feat three decades ago by elevating their plaza 35 feet above the street as part of a planned skyway system that never materialized. The isolated and barren plaza has drawn few visitors over the years, though it generated a development bonus of 410,000 square feet of office space in a 3.6 million-square-foot building.

The plaza was so poorly regarded that Goldman Sachs, a prospective tenant, proposed last year to replace it with a 240-foot-high trading-floor structure and pay $5 million to upgrade other nearby public spaces in exchange. That project was canceled.

Now, two design firms in Lower Manhattan propose to recreate the plaza and its approaches as a “series of dunelike spaces along a sloped escarpment that echo the post-glacial landscape of New England and the mid-Atlantic states,” with an angular lighthouse at one corner for good measure.

More than wishful thinking, this proposal by Rogers Marvel Architects and Ken Smith Landscape Architect was chosen Wednesday in a juried competition by the building’s owner, the New Water Street Corporation, and the Municipal Art Society. And so it is seriously intended to be a blueprint for reclaiming a public amenity that never was.

Though it is too early to say how much the project would cost, there is money for it in the building budget, said Harry A. Bridgwood, executive vice president of New Water Street, a subsidiary of the Retirement Systems of Alabama.