Chinese firm cracked down on scooters & toy strollers in Chase Plaza

Downtown Express photo by Mia Rupani

Downtown Express photo by Mia Rupani

BY DUSICA SUE MALESEVIC | Financial District families were alarmed when they and their children with scooters or strollers were kicked out of One Chase Manhattan Plaza in recent weeks.

Denise Courter, founder of FiDi Families, said around mid-April several families went to what is now called 28 Liberty Plaza, renamed after it was brought by Chinese company Fosun in 2013.

“We all tend to go to the open plazas to scooter or, for the little kids, they’re learning how to walk or pushing their own baby strollers,” Courter said in a phone interview.

“That’s something that we’ve gotten very used to. We’re obviously very lucky because there’s just big gigantic spaces that we take advantage of on the weekends.”

After about 20 minutes, however, she realized families were getting asked to leave. There were about 12 different families there and the parents pushed back, asking the security guards why they had to go. The security guard told her that the plaza was under new management and he “definitely indicated that the philosophy had changed, that it was no longer a open plaza,” she said.

The guards were civil, she said, but there was the veiled threat that if they didn’t leave, they would call the police.

“Everyone was very frustrated,” said Courter. “It definitely turned negative. It just left a bad taste in everybody’s mouth.”

Elisa Vega, who moved to the neighborhood two years ago, said it seemed that the security guards had been cracking down. She went there with her two-year-old late in the day and within five minutes of getting on his scooter, guards came over and said he couldn’t do that.

“I was just so surprised because it is such a big, nice space,” said Vega in a phone interview. “It seemed like a 180.”

The issue came to a head at Community Board 1’s Financial District Committee meeting on Wed., May 6.

Jim Connors, vice president of asset management for Fosun, said the matter came to his attention after FiDi Families wrote a letter to the company’s chairperson, which was forwarded to him.

Connors said “particularly overzealous” security guards were enforcing rules, but he insisted that Fosun had not changed any rules.

“They’ve been absolutely instructed to be family friendly,” said Connors, who once worked for the National September 11 Memorial & Museum Foundation. “Families and kids are welcome all the time in the plaza.”

But parents at the meeting said the problem had persisted and emphasized the amount of families and children near the plaza.

Connors apologized and said he was surprised as he thought this had been corrected a couple of weeks ago.

“I have four kids too — I get it,” he said. “I will redouble my efforts with the property manager and the director of security to ensure that doesn’t happen.”

Committee member Patrick Kennell said when his four-year-old son rode his scooter around, the security guard handed him a copy of the rules.

“He indicated that the owner of the building was telling them to do this,” he said. “That’s why he handed this copy of the rules and said go to your community board and change it.”

Michael Levine, C.B. 1’s land use consultant, explained that the plaza is in effect, a privately owned public space, or POPS.  One Chase Manhattan was built before POPS legislation was passed, however, the plaza was opened for the public in exchange for closing part of Cedar St., which allowed the building to be taller.

“It’s our understanding that’s it’s actually private property — it looks and feels like a public space because it’s been open to the public, I think, for decades, if not since the beginning,” said Connors.

While it is private space, Fosun can’t build on it, he said, and it will remain open space.

In Sun., May 10 email, Vega said that she and her family went to the plaza this past weekend and experienced no issues.

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