A New Plan for Extra Place Takes Shape

Extra PlaceLaura E. Lee Extra Place.

Construction is scheduled to begin Monday on a new plan to turn the historic Extra Place alley into a pedestrian walkway for retail patios and a new local arts venue.

The art space is a collaboration between developer Avalon Bay and Fourth Arts Block, a non-profit coalition of arts organizations.

“We’re really excited” said the arts block’s director Tamara Greenfield. “We think it is a fantastic opportunity.”

The vacant alley, tucked off First Street between Bowery and Second Avenue, has special historical significance. In the 1970’s, the backdoor for the legendary music club CBGB opened to the alley and bands like The Ramones were photographed in the space.

“It managed to make garbage look beautiful, in its context,” said Rob Hollander of the Lower East Side History Project.

At the suggestion of Susan Stetzer, the district manager for Community Board 3, Avalon Bay officials approached Fourth Arts Block, a coalition aimed at making the East Fourth Street area a cultural district, and suggested a partnership.

An artists alley could mark rare common ground between Avalon Bay and residents who resent the loss of local flavor to large commercial development.

“There’s an aesthetic and an idea and a feeling about the East Village and Lower East Side that people who have been here a long time and been working here don’t want to lose,” Ms. Greenfield said. “It does have a kind of scrappy and experimental quality to it — diverse and eclectic and not always so clean and manicured.”

While he supports expanding the arts block’s presence, Mr. Hollander questioned Avalon Bay’s willingness to relinquish part of the space. “The question is what it means to say control and that, I guess, would be a negotiation between FAB and the developer and maybe the community board,” Mr. Hollander said.

Extra Place PlanCourtesy of Avalon Bay A rendering of the plan for Extra Place.

Ms. Greenfield said the developer has not requested oversight or approval of the artists or content. She acknowledged the space will be altered to expand retail business but remained optimistic about the ability to retain local culture.

“Keeping an art component to it is going to keep a feeling of personal connection. And feel like it is humans and not just manicured spaces,” she said. “It’s nice to have space that looks good but it’s also nice to have a feeling like people are interacting with them.”

Stephen Hutto, director of retail projects for Avalon Bay, said that he first imagined the project while brainstorming for ways to drum up foot traffic for retailers.

“There’s nothing that pulls you to go that way,” he said, motioning towards the cul-de-sac. Several storefronts on the alley are empty, including the recently shuttered Bespoke Chocolates.

Incorporating art into the Extra Place space is a natural fit, Mr. Hutto said, since the alley entrance is framed by two art venues — The Proposition gallery and La Mama.

While the proposal is not finalized, Ms. Greenfield anticipates the concept would be similar to ArtUp, an arts block project that offers a rotating exhibit on the scaffolding bridge at 70 East Fourth Street. ArtUp curator Joyce Manalo will also work on the alley project.

Extra PlaceLaura E. Lee Work at the site begins Monday.

The exhibit could also include a performing arts component, similar to the recent production of Bowery Wars by the Downtown Art’s company.

The new proposal is not the first effort by Avalon Bay to renovate the alley. In 2008, the developer planned a pedestrian mall in the space but the project was delayed because of permitting issues, according to Hutto.

“I wish Extra Place was what it was 10 years ago, but that’s never happening,” Mr. Hollander said. “So if the Arts Block is going to have some control over that, it would be a great addition to the arts in New York and to the Bowery.”