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The Lowline Moves Forward After Major Boost From City

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The Lower East Side’s proposed underground park wins the first of many city approvals

A peek into the Lowline Lab on Essex Street.
Max Touhey for Curbed

The out-there proposal to transform the unused trolley terminal under Delancey Street into an underground park might not be so out-there after all. The Lowline has faced its fare share of detractors, but the one-acre underground park got a huge boost this week in its quest to become a reality. City Hall gave the Lowline its first official approvals on Wednesday, marking its second major bureaucratic accomplishment following the Lower East Side community board’s conditional approval of the development, NY Mag reports.

The city issued a Request For Expressions of Interest for developing the old Williamsburg Trolley Terminal in November, and have formally selected the Lowline’s proposal. NYMag notes that the Lowline’s bid was the only bid received, making the decision process that much easier.

"When they first presented it to me, I thought, That is some crazy, smoking-dope stuff — let’s check it out!" deputy mayor for housing and economic development Alicia Glen told NY Mag. Glen has been one of the project’s largest proponents to-date, and has worked to assure the local community that the Lowline isn’t "about gentrification," but about bringing a park to a neighborhood starved for open space.

What’s next for the Lowline? Its founders, Dan Barasch and James Ramsey, will continue building out and testing the light-gathering prototypes that are set in place at the Lowline Lab on Essex Street. Meanwhile, they’ve been tasked by the city with raising $10 million in one year, completing a schematic design, and hosting public sessions to gather community input on the park.

The terminal has yet to go through the city’s uniform land use review procedure, and the park has yet to secure funding. Estimates pinpoint the park’s development cost at $60 million with an annual maintenance of $4 million. The city hasn’t committed any funds to the park, but Glen told NY Mag that private funds haven’t been ruled out.

"I never even thought we’d get this far," Barasch told NY Mag. The Lowline is years from existing, but the Lowline Lab is now open for visitors (who can play with James Murphy’s musical turnstile prototype.)