Chinatown’s chaotic Kimlau Square is set to receive a $55.8 million redesign, as first reported by amNewYork. During his State of the City address on Wednesday, Mayor Eric Adams announced Kimlau Square will be renovated in three phases: an expansion of the square into a pedestrian plaza with shortened street crossings, the beautification of Park Row between the plaza and the Brooklyn Bridge, and the creation of an archway that welcomes people into the neighborhood. The project aims to straighten out the confusing six-way intersection that surrounds the plaza and increase the size of the space from 12,000 to 20,000 square feet.
The redesign is being funded by the city and state, with NYC providing $44.3 million and the state contributing $11.5 million, according to City Hall.
The project is a significant expansion of the Downtown Revitalization Program, an initiative supported by state funding that was given $20 million in 2021 to revamp the East Broadway Mall, Forsyth Plaza, and Kimlau Square, according to Gothamist.
The city will begin a community outreach process for all three phases of the project within the next few months, Ya-Ting Liu, the city’s chief public realm officer, told amNY.
The state awarded the $11.5 million grant to improve the space in late 2021, according to Liu. After the grant was awarded, the city agencies tasked with implementing the improvements, including the Parks and Transportation Departments and the city’s Economic Development Corporation, came to Liu with the prospect of expanding the redesign.
While many residents of Manhattan’s Chinatown are celebrating the plaza upgrades, members of Brooklyn’s Chinese American community are voicing concerns about the lack of transparency involving a similar project in Sunset Park.
Officially revealed by former Brooklyn Borough President Marky Markowitz in April 2013, the Sunset Park archway was a planned present from Beijing’s Chaoyang District meant to be installed on Eighth Avenue between 60th and 61st Streets.
In 2017, then Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams and former Mayor Bill de Blasio announced the installation of the archway. The project was led by Adams and Winnie Greco, a former volunteer and now the mayor’s Director of Asian Affairs.
Greco in 2012 established the Sino American New York Brooklyn Archway Association, a nonprofit group tasked with helping raise funds for maintaining the archway after it was installed. Despite members of the community contributing a large sum of money over the years, the project was suddenly discarded in early 2020 due to what Adams called “geopolitical tensions,” according to The City.
Now, Robin Mui, the current acting president of the Sino American New York Brooklyn Archway Association, is using the city’s announcement regarding Chinatown’s archway to bring attention to the incomplete project in Sunset Park. As reported by The City, Miu is expected to meet with Department of Transportation Commissioner Ydanis Rodriguez in the coming weeks to discuss the relaunch of the Brooklyn archway project.
Kimlau Square is home to a memorial honoring Chinese American veterans who served in World War II. The plaza is named in honor of Lieutenant Benjamin Ralph Kimlau, a Chinese American from New York City who served as an Air Force bomber pilot in World War II and died in combat at the age of 26.
Named in honor of Kimlau, the American Legion, Lt. B.R. Kimlau Chinese Memorial Post 1291 was established in 1945 by Chinese American veterans returning from the war. During the 1960s, the American Legion requested that the city pay tribute to the Chinese Americans who served by creating a memorial dedicated to them. In 1961, Chatham Square was co-named Kimlau Square and the Kimlau Memorial Arch was unveiled a year later.
The memorial was designed by architect Poy Gum Lee, who was born at 13 Mott Street in 1900 and later studied at the Pratt Institute and Columbia University. Standing roughly 19 feet tall and featuring elements of traditional Chinese architecture and modernist design, the memorial was designed as a ceremonial gateway to Chinatown.
The monument, which features inscriptions in both Chinese and English, reads: “In memory of Americans of Chinese ancestry who lost their lives in the defense of freedom and democracy.”
In June 2021, the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission voted to designate the Kimlau War Memorial as a historic landmark, making it the first NYC landmark related to Chinese American history and culture. While there are a number of landmarks in Chinatown, none are directly related to the history and culture of Chinese Americans.