-By Alec Pruchnicki
Last Sunday, Village Preservation, the most active neighborhood preservation organization in The Village, had its opening program for Village Voices. This is a recount of the many historical figures who lived in The Village over the years using small accessible recorded voices in front of their locations which give short verbal presentations about them. It is a very interesting way of presenting history and I was a spectator in it last year and this year.
The opening ceremony took place in Gansevoort Plaza, a wide-open area on Gansevoort Street in the Meatpacking District. When returning from the ceremony, I walked through Gansevoort Street itself and it made me remember an intense controversy from 2015 (Westview News, “We’re Preserving What?”, 12/2015). A developer had acquired all the buildings on the South side of Gansevoort Street from Greenwich to Washington streets and had proposed renovations and enlargements throughout the block even though it is in an historic district.
There was widespread opposition to this proposal from preservationists, community people, and some political leaders. It was predicted that these renovations would lead to the “utter obliteration” of the street and “…add no value whatsoever to the community…). I took a different view after actually going to the street and taking a detailed and objective (I think) view of the area.
The block was a mess. On most days there were more empty storefronts than occupied ones. Since the closing of Florent restaurant in 2008, the area had many closed businesses and was virtually empty at night when it should have been packed since it was in the heart of the hot Meatpacking district. The actual developments that were proposed were relatively modest in size when compared to the surrounding area, although this one street was landmarked as historic and some of the surrounding streets weren’t.
So, during last Sunday’s walk, what did I see? The physical improvements were not overwhelming. The renovated two-story building on the South East end of the street did not overwhelm the six6-story modern building on the West side of Greenwich Street, and the new six-6 story building on the South West end of the block did not overwhelm the older ten-story building on the West side of Washington street, not to mention the massive Whitney Museum. The stores in between were mostly one1-two2 stories tall. On both sides of the street, almost all the stores were occupied and I only saw one completely empty one on both the uptown and downtown sides of the block. A few storefronts had advertisements for other events (like some Louis Vuitton fashion show coming up) and so I couldn’t be sure if they were actually being used. The new Pastis restaurant was packed, at 2 PM on a sunny Sunday, and all the other stores had either restaurants or high-end clothing stores. The block has gone from a decrepit mess to an active part of the community. Although the type of stores essentially signified gentrification on steroids, that has been occurring in the area for decades and any people who think that it can look like it did in Herman Melville’s time, or perhaps like South Street Seaport or Colonial Williamsburg are not living in reality.
There were minor modifications to the original developer’s plan, but what did get done is roughly what was originally proposed. It has been significantly improved compared to seven years ago. Although what happens on one little street doesn’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world (I love stealing lines from Casablanca) maybe this shows us that preservation is not always good and development is not always bad.