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Look Here—No Trespassing on Chase's Private Property!

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[Looking down a former block of Cedar Street, from Nassau to William Streets]

JP Morgan Chase is the grumpy old man of downtown Manhattan, yelling at passersby to keep off of his lawn. In fact, don't even look at his lawn, or the expensive pieces of art that decorate it. They're not for you. Chase Manhattan Plaza was the subject of most of Community Board 1's Land Use Committee meeting last night on Chambers Street. The discussion of the plaza was spurred by an article in yesterday's Times, which raised the possibility that the Chase plaza is not actually undergoing a 9 month construction project, but that the fences were raised last September possibly to prevent Occupy Wall Street from pulling a Zuccotti on the bank's front yard. It's difficult to say, however, because the bank won't share any details about its plaza with Community Board 1, according to its committee members.

If Chase Manhattan Plaza was a traditional Privately Owned Public Space (POPS), there would be rules about maintaining public access to the site. But the plan to create the plaza was presented to the City Planning Commission and its head Robert Moses in the late 1950s, before the advent of trading public access for structural concessions to new buildings. Although the City ceded a block of Cedar Street between Nassau and William Streets to Chase for the creation of the plaza, the plaza is now a private space, and the bank can keep the public out if it wants.

The members of CB1's Land Use Committee seemed split on the direction it should take, but united in the need to bring a resolution before the full community board urging Chase to do something to restore access to its plaza. When the bank built its corporate headquarters downtown by interrupting the narrow streets of the financial district with an International Style tower and a sweeping plaza, it was viewed as a white knight heralding the rebirth of downtown Manhattan. But that was a time when only a handful of people called that area home. Now, tens of thousands live in the Financial District and it is one of the fastest-growing residential areas in New York City. The closure of the Chase plaza has seen the bank come full circle in its civic role, from urban white knight to a purveyor of neighborhood blight. Legally, CB1 and the City seem to have their hands tied, but are hoping that some appeal can be made to the company's better nature to restore access to its plaza.

In the meantime, the committee applauded the Downtown Alliance for facilitating the placement of Greg Lamarche's work "Around the Corner", a stick-on mural of block-like shapes that minimizes the ugly appearance of the construction fences.
· LPC Report on One Chase Manhattan Plaza (pdf) [nyc.gov]
· Suit Seeks Plans for Closed Public Plaza as Owner’s Motives Are Questioned [NYT]
· Controversies [Curbed]