NYC’s LowLine underground park raises cash on Kickstarter

Dylan Stableford

A group of New Yorkers, inspired by the transformation of an abandoned railway on the west side of Manhattan into the High Line urban park, are hoping to do something similar on the Lower East Side -- only this time, underground.

Nicknaming their project LowLine, organizers at the Delancey Underground want to turn an abandoned trolley terminal below their neighborhood into what they say would be New York City's first underground community green space.

The 60,000-square-foot, 1.5 acre site -- which is controlled by the Metro Transit Authority -- was built in 1903. It originally housed streetcars destined for Williamsburg, but has been out of operation since 1948.

Co-founders Dan Barasch and James Ramsey have raised more than $64,000 on Kickstarter.com, with a goal of $100,000 by April 6, enough to fund a full-scale demo -- or "mini-LowLine" -- of the solar technology that would power the underground park.

"We're technically building the most kick-ass demonstration of solar technology in New York City memory," Barasch told Yahoo News.

According to Ramsey, an architect and former NASA engineer, the park would use high-tech solar technology to gather natural sunlight and direct it using fiber optic cables to allow plants and trees to grow underground.

The project has already attracted more than 675 backers, though only two have pledged more than $10,000 -- a donation that gets you VIP-partner status plus a gourmet dinner cooked by "chef" Ramsey.

Barasch said the LowLine would likely cost tens of millions and take years to build, but that the success of the High Line showed that it is possible to move ahead without relying entirely on public funding. (The High Line opened in 2009 with city support -- but the project was started by a nonprofit group in 1999.)

The group says they've also had preliminary conversations with city and MTA officials.

"They are intrigued by our proposal but are interested in our developing a business case for the location which supports their real estate objectives alongside our community development goals," Barasch said. Who would own the underground park, he added, "remains unclear at this stage."

The development of the High Line received some support from celebrities, including Ed Norton and David Byrne -- and the LowLine organizers say they are gathering the same. "We have a growing number of supporters in the celebrity category," Barasch said, but declined to name them.

"We're doing all we can to build community support, from every small business, real estate owner, local resident, student, or artist to all elected officials," Barasch added. "If we move ahead, it will be with the support of the Lower East Side community, and it will be something that will belong to everybody."

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