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At Wash Heights Workshop, Support For Ped-Friendly Plaza De Las Americas

DOT presented the latest design concepts for a permanent Plaza De Las Americas to Washington Heights residents last night, showing a plan to pedestrianize the full block of 175th Street between Broadway and Wadsworth Avenue, in order to make a new space for residents and the popular market currently operating at that location. The design -- 95 feet deep and 165 feet wide, extending all the way into what are currently the parking lanes on Broadway and Wadsworth --  won plaudits from those in attendance.

The new design will introduce curves to the street grid, with waves of trees, benches and lights lining the plaza along the north and south. Much of the space will be left open, with moveable furniture, so that vendors have the most flexibility to set up tents and trucks as needed.

The design presented last night includes a number of features added at the request of community members who attended a similar workshop in September. Granite bollards will line the east and west of the plaza to protect against errant cars, for example, and amenities like a public restroom and a small storage kiosk for vendors were added.

The final pieces of the plaza's design are still being worked out. An artist will be selected to bring public art to the plaza in the next few weeks, and the selection of materials for items like benches or pavers is still underway. The design should be completed by this fall. Construction is scheduled to start in spring 2012 and last one year.

Last night's workshop, which was attended by around 15 residents, had an informal, participatory feel. Coffee and cookies were provided along with a bilingual presentation: The slides shown were in Spanish and the main conversation was held in English with a translator.

"It's an improvement over what's there now," said Community Board 12 land use committee chair Wayne Benjamin after the meeting. "Right now, it's a very wide intersection being used as a plaza." Benjamin said that he still wanted to see what specific design features are selected and expressed disappointment that no Upper Manhattan artist was a finalist for the plaza's public art.

"It'll bring much improvement for our community," agreed Rafael Osoria, an aide to Assembly Member Guillermo Linares. "Now, it's terrible."

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