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Lowline developer James Ramsey shopping new ideas for space

New York real estate development is an industry built upon what the future can hold. James Ramsey, principal at RAAD and the brain behind the development of the Lowline, has an eye on tomorrow while being equally inspired by yesterday.

During this week’s B’nai B’rith luncheon at the Cornell Club in Midtown, Ramsey depicted the sequential permutations of growth and development that Manhattan has undergone, in reverse order.

After stopping on a slide of the city and the surrounding area covered in undisturbed wilderness, Ramsey said New York is merely the result of several cities that have been built upon each other.

“Underneath New York City,” said Ramsey, “there’s 13 acres of unused real estate underneath Manhattan alone. That’s including all the tunnels and stuff that we don’t even know about.”

Upon realizing this, the former NASA engineer began exploring the subterranean frame of the city, including out-of-commission subway stations. He’d eventually find a home for the Lowline, an underground park-like space.

“I began to research them and explore them a little bit,” said Ramsey before singling out the Williamsburg Trolley Terminal.

Located under Delancey Street, the terminal is a 60,000 s/f space which housed the station before it was shut down in 1948.

“What if we could just peel up the sidewalk,” said Ramsey while discussing the entrance he’s designed for the park. The rendering depicts what appears to be an oversized sidewalk square being raised and giving way to a well-lit, park beneath the street.

“It’s New York, it’s a money-driven city, we’re always looking forward to the future, to advance things, to develop things. We often forget that this is a very old, historical city and every once in a while we give ourselves a reminder that that is the case.”

Ramsey has designed “futuristic” technologies that have sustained 94 percent of the plant life currently installed in the Lowline’s above-ground trial home.

The Lowline Lab, as it’s called, is open to school groups during the week and the public on weekends. Ramsey has found a way to harness sunlight from above ground and funnel it beneath the street to give plants the nutrients that they need. However, a more traditional lighting system will also be in place for cloudy days and night time visits to the underground park.

The final product, which is projected to open at 140 Essex Street between 2020 and 2021, will first and foremost exist to benefit the public and provide a park that is comfortably accessible, regardless of street level weather. Ramsey has not ruled out corporate partnerships and sponsorships to help monetize and support the space.

“We’re purists in some sense but not in others,” Ramsey said. “We are a 501c3, we are a non-profit organization. In order to build something at this level of ambition, we can’t just look to the city or to the state to actually just pay for this. We’re in an age where that doesn’t happen as much anymore.

“We very much look to private donors and to corporate partners to actually help fund both the operation and the capital costs of creating something like this.

“The shorthand term that we’re using for this space is that it’s an underground park. Of course, the legal definition of a park also includes that it’s open to the sky, which we’re not. We’d never fall under the parks department jurisdiction or anything like that. “

Ramsey said it’s a mix between a botanical garden and a historical space, a combination which grants it unique license.

He said that while at its soul, the space will be a park, there is a “bunch of flexibility” to potentially add monetizing aspects such as retail space.

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