The feds giveth and then the feds taketh away.
Four million dollars in federal funds to renovate little-used Walt Whitman Park next to the federal courthouse on Cadman Plaza East have become linked to a separate federal plan to permanently close the street to traffic and formalize the block’s use as a judicial parking lot.
The street was closed after 9-11, citing security needs. Subsequently, judges and other employees from the U.S. District Court and workers at the city’s Office of Emergency Management, both between Tillary Street and Red Cross Place, commandeered the block — the only direct link between DUMBO and Downtown.
Now the federal government, courts and U.S. marshals are working with the city Department of Transportation to finalize that “temporary” closure of Cadman Plaza East.
Community leaders are concerned that their beautiful new park will become a prisoner behind fortified barricades and a judicial parking lot, so Community Board 2 has put aside money to finance a solution, District Manager Rob Perris said.
“There are design treatments that would make it function like an open space, while still allowing emergency vehicles to drive down Washington Street,” he said. “But if it’s going to look and function like an open space, cars have to be moved away from that area.”
It seems clear, however, that the judges have no intention of giving up their street parking. In fact, court officials don’t want the public to know that Cadman Plaza East is merely a parking lot.
When Sebastian Kahnert, a Brooklyn Paper photographer, headed out last week to take pictures for this story, he was harassed by a uniformed security officer and ordered to delete his pictures as the security officer watched.
Kahnert — who grew up in East Germany, where such things could happen every day — said the whole incident was “strange” and not what he expected in America.
In fact, Kahnert’s high regard for American freedom is legitimate; the officer who ordered Kahnert to delete his pictures was wrong to do so, admitted U.S. Marshal chief deputy Tim Hogan, who oversees security at the federal courthouse.
He added that “we don’t have any” rules against taking pictures of the building.
“The only thing we will do is challenge people to identify who they are and why they are taking pictures of the federal building,” Hogan said. “We do not delete photographs.”
Hogan said his officers will ask people not to take pictures of the courthouse, but can’t actually stop them from doing so.
“The issue comes down to identification of people who are taking the pictures because we do hold terrorism trials,” Hogan said.
As for Whitman Park, Parks Department officials last week unveiled renderings that show a centrally located fountain and landscaped pathways, benches, and trees.