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City seeks proposals for an "Illuminate Lower Manhattan" project

February 6, 2012

The New York City Economic Development Corporation (EDC) has issued a request for proposals to "Illuminate Lower Manhattan." The proposals must be submitted by March 13, 2012 and the winning plan will be awarded $1 million toward the cost of the project.

The EDC wants to make Lower Manhattan more attractive, exciting and interesting and therefore raise property values just as the High Line has made West Chelsea more desirable.

The proposed light show must be east of Broadway and south of Fulton and Ann streets, although the EDC is encouraging locations along South Street or near the New York Stock Exchange. Presumably such a geographic location might provide visibility for the project from Brooklyn, but not from New Jersey as Battery Park City has been excluded from the project. It is not clear why the EDC has set a geographic limitation for the project unless it wants to have it highlight the South Street Seaport, whose fate is not clear although the Museum of the City of New York has recently taken over its museum.

The light show will be a regular weekly or monthly event and could include an interactive piece, with the projected lights changing as do pedestrian's movements or perhaps displaying people's text-messaged thoughts, Asima Jansveld, an EDC vice president told Julie Shapiro of in an February 3, 2012 article, adding that "the goal is create an avant-garde art piece, not another Times Square."

The article said that Ali Davis, an EDC assistant vice president, said a January 13 informational meeting about the project drew more than 100 people including representatives of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, H3 Hardy Collaboration Architecture, and the Rockwell Group.

EDC president Seth Pinsky said in a statement that the r.f.p. "seeks to tap some of the world's most creative minds to help us highlight the evolution of this great New York neighborhood, both literally and figuratively."

In a December 13, 2011 article by Meredith Hoffman in The New York Times, Mr. Pinsky said "this project will have a minimum life span of three years, and the final product will be distinct for New York," noting that he envisions "Shanghai's bold waterfront spectacular as a potential model." Shanghai is shown at the left.

In recent years, Shanghai has already won the "lights" competition hands down with its illuminated towers, bridges and highways as can been seen in a video posted May 20, 2011 by "MadePossible" at YouTube.

The same article quoted Julie Menin, the chair of Community Board 1, as stating that "we don't want something that creates a circus-like atmosphere," adding "we want something tasteful, to emphasize historical facades, but most importantly economic development - jobs - anything to create more revenue for small businesses."

Perhaps, therefore, the winning project might project dollar signs on buildings, or a multi-building rainbow ending in a pot of gold on Wall Street, the city's street of dreams that now hosts many buildings that have been converted from offices to apartments such as 37 Wall Street, 55 Wall Street, 75 Wall Street and other nearby buildings such as 20 Pine Street, 15 Broad Street, 40 Broad Street and One Wall Street Court.

While Times Square is the city's greatest on-going light show, the "Tribute in Lights" has been the most beautiful and spectacular, shooting up two columns of very bright lights very high into the sky that conjure the twin towers of the World Trade Center that was destroyed in the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

The "tribute," however, has only been up for the first six-month anniversary of the attacks and the anniversaries ever since and its future continuance is uncertain given that its location is under construction for the very much delayed rebuilding of the center and perhaps also because the design of the rebuilding does not relate to the twin towers that are so lyrically invoked by the "tribute."

Perhaps the "tribute" could be moved near the South Street Seaport on a permanent basis to help balance the skyline.

New York City's nighttime skyline, of course, is already an impressive lightshow. New York City has two of the world's most famous illuminated towers, William Van Alen's Chrysler Building and Shreve, Lamb & Harmon's Empire State Building, which were completed in 1930 and 1931, respectively. The changing light schemes eventually employed at the Empire State Building are echoed, but not coordinated with, the Clock Tower Building on the southeast corner of Madison Avenue and 24th Street, designed by Napoleon LeBrun & Sons in 1909.

In recent years, the nighttime skyline has been augmented by some new illuminated towers such as the mixed-use projects at One Beacon Court at 151 East 58th Street and the Time Warner Center on Columbus Circle, and office towers such as 383 Madison and 70 Pine Street and The Metropolitan apartment building at 181 East 90th Street.

Three other important buildings that are now illuminated are the great Woolworth Building at 233 Broadway, designed in 1913 by Cass Gilbert, and The Barclay Tower at 10 Barclay Street designed by Costas Kondylis, and the Crown Building on the southwest corner of Fifth Avenue and 57th Street, designed in 1921 by Warren & Wetmore.

The Eighth Avenue corridor in Midtown is highlighted by the glowing pyramid top of World Wide Plaza, designed in 1989 by David Smith of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill. That huge tower has been joined recently by two smaller towers whose tops are also lit at night: the Link at 310 W. 52nd St., a 43-story residential condominium building designed by Costas Kondylis and completed at the end of last year; and the Marc, a 45-story rental apartment building at 900 Eighth Ave., designed in 2003 by Frank Williams & Associates.

Times Square, of course, has long served as the throbbing, electrified heart of the city's nightlife.

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