Cuomo delays COVID essential workers memorial in Battery Park amid fierce opposition

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has agreed to delay erecting a memorial to honor essential coronavirus workers in state-run Battery Park City following fierce community opposition.

Cuomo’s point person on the project — Battery Park City Authority Chairman George Tsunis — said Monday he will go back to the drawing board and allow local residents to serve on an expanded advisory committee to review options and have input in selecting a new design for the project.

The governor initially relied on an advisory panel consisting solely of union leaders representing essential workers and shut the Battery Park City residential community out of the decision-making process for the design and location for the “Circle of Heroes.”

The closed process triggered a huge backlash, with BPC residents protesting the placing of a concrete memorial consisting of 20 maple trees representing each group of essential workers and an eternal flame in beloved green space used by families — Rockefeller Park.

During a five-hour Community Board 1 meeting last week, residents also opposed a new proposal to shoe-horn the essential workers memorial next to the Irish Hunger Memorial at Vesey Street and North End Avenue.

Gov. Cuomo decided to delay the planned memorial after opposition from Battery City Park residents.
Gov. Cuomo decided to delay the planned memorial after opposition from Battery City Park residents.
AP Photo/Mary Altaffer

Another less likely option would be next to the Esplanade Plaza Volleyball Court at Liberty Street at South End Avenue.

Residents blasted Cuomo and state officials for engaging in a rushed and haphazard process to ram through a worthy workers’ memorial that would take away green space or diminish the importance of the Irish famine memorial.

Tsunis, who apologized for the lack of consultation, said he’s heard the BPC community’s criticism and has agreed to start a new process that will include residents’ input in selecting a new design and site.

“Over the past two weeks we have heard two things clearly and consistently: the love that our community harbors for its parks and public spaces, and its desire to honor the enduring efforts of essential workers over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Tsunis said in a statement.

People lounging outside at the park where the memorial was originally planned to be located in Rockefeller Park on July 5, 2021.
People lounging outside at the park where the memorial was originally planned to be located in Rockefeller Park on July 5, 2021.
James Keivom

“Through this active and unprecedented feedback loop we have also heard the community’s concerns about the proposed Essential Workers Monument, listened to those concerns, and incorporated that feedback into the decision making process with the Governor’s Office, essential workers, and other stakeholders.

“To continue incorporating public feedback into the process, we will put together a new and expanded advisory committee comprised of local stakeholders, essential worker representatives, and others to review options within Battery Park City to select a site and design for a welcome and world-class monument our essential workers so richly deserve,” he said.

Tsunis said the new review process will delay the unveiling of the essential workers monument “beyond Labor Day” — the governor’s original deadline — but added that “there will be an essential worker recognition on Labor Day nonetheless.”

“We want grieving families of lost essential workers to know that Battery Park City respects their sacrifice and contribution but BPCA residents feel strongly and potential litigation by residents would further extend the process,” he said.

A sign on a tree in Rockefeller Park protesting the planned memorial to COVID-19 essential workers.
A sign on a tree in Rockefeller Park protesting the planned memorial to COVID-19 essential workers.
James Keivom

BPC residents applauded the “pause” in the workers memorial project to give them more of a say.

“I am grateful that the Battery Park City Authority has formally paused construction of the Essential Workers Monument. I’m looking forward to a thoughtful and inclusive public process that includes feedback from local residents and stakeholders to select a location and create a design for the monument that truly honors essential workers,” said BPC resident Adrian Mak.

The Cuomo appointee’s statement was released just hours before local elected officials — including Rep. Jerry Nadler, Councilwoman Margaret Chin and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer — planned to hold a protest rally by the Irish Hunger Memorial calling for a “pause” for the project.

Metro | New York Post

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