WHEN it opens here early in 1987, Bridgemarket will be the fulfillment of a big idea, beleaguered as it may have been, whose time finally came. The project will utilize the space beneath and beside the Manhattan end of the Queensborough Bridge where it spans the East River at 59th and First Avenue. It may carry overtones from other restoration projects, such as Quincy Market in Boston and Ghiradelli Square in San Francisco, but Bridgemarket will be devoted solely to food and to the cookware and other housewares required to prepare it. It will feature more than 50 fine food shops, four restaurants, a year-round covered farmer's market, and a plaza park.
For nine years, Harley Baldwin, a young entrepreneur-developer, has patiently threaded this $25 million project through New York's bureaucratic maze. His proposal had to win approval from two community planning boards, the Art Commission, the Landmark Preservation Commission, the Planning Commission, the board of estimate, the borough board, the state legislature, and 19 city agencies.
It was a challenging time, but Mr. Baldwin didn't lose patience. He hired lawyers and lobbyists and he himself stumped the city tirelessly, making hundreds of slide presentations to all kinds of community groups in an effort to explain his project and convince others of its attractiveness and viability. JANE KALMUS, president of a neighborhood action group called Sutton Area Community Inc., says her group feared such negative environmental influences as pedestrian congestion, impact of vehicular noise, and crowding of sidewalks and streets.
``Several alternative courses of action which we suggested have been accepted,'' she says, ``about entrance and egress, beautification and landscaping of the outdoor areas, and inclusion of a meeting room for community groups within the complex.
``We are in a position to work with the Bridgemarket partnership and with city agencies to ensure that the best interests of our community will be served,'' she continues. ``We are involved in several programs that will involve adequate police and fire protection, additional sanitation collections, and sidewalk sweepers to monitor sidewalk conditions seven days a week. We have also launched our own SAC Fund to help us maintain the quality of our community life.''
Mr. Baldwin's triumph over endless delays and obstructions (from neighborhood opponents to state legislators) is secure. It is generally conceded that Bridgemarket will upgrade existing city space, restore a portion of a historic structure, provide jobs, and add both luster and funds to the city of New York.
As we viewed the dingy but dramatic 120-by-270-foot cavernous area beneath the bridge, Mr. Baldwin commented, ``I had fallen in love with the sweeping grandeur of the space the moment I saw it. It was vast and tile-vaulted, with majestic columns and soaring arches just as designed by Rafael Gustavino as part of the monumental 1909 construction of the Queensborough bridge.''
During the past nine years, Mr. Baldwin has spent much time visiting fine markets in many countries and talking to chefs, food purveyors, and farmers. ``I have always returned to New York persuaded that Bridgemarket was going to be the greatest food market of them all, the finest in the world,'' he says. His firm, Baldwin Associates, hired the architectural firm of Hardy Holzman Pfeiffer to work out the plans. MR. BALDWIN has signed a 50-year lease with the City of New York for the space; groundbreaking will take place in August. The projected completion date is Feb. l, 1987. The specialty food shops, including those selling fresh meats, fish, produce, bakery goods, and beverages, will be on four levels, built around a central atrium and connected by escalators.
``What we offer in food,'' says Mr. Baldwin, ``will represent the whole diversity of New York . . . the various cuisines of the world, including China, Japan, Thailand, France, Morocco, and Russia. We will have take-out foods and eat-in foods of the most exotic variety.
``Shoppers will be able to sit down at different counters and eat a Thai first course, a Japanese second course, and a French dessert course. We will have Japanese sushi bars, Chinese dim sum, Middle Eastern specialities, and, of course, the original New York bagel. Nobody anywhere is doing what we plan to do in what I think will represent the food market of the future.''
Bridgemarket, with its complex of shops and restaurants, he maintains, ``will be a community center, a place where friends meet and greet, shop, and eat together. It will have a neighborhood quality of warmth and friendliness.'' Mr. Baldwin has even contacted farmers in the Northeast who will grow crops especially for Bridgemarket.
The developer says his fascination with markets began in Barcelona, Spain, where he took a postgraduate course in economics.
``At the Mercado de San Jose there, I saw the human scale of city life and the amenities of pedestrian environments,'' he explains. ``After that I became a sort of professional market observer, in London, Paris, Munich, everywhere. It is the vibrant and living texture of these markets that I want to introduce to New York.''
The financing for the Bridgemarket project is coming from the Teachers Insurance Assurance Association.