By Elias Rodriguez
Even as a skeptical native of Manhattan it was difficult not to be impressed by the meticulously planned office building at 290 Broadway where EPA’s New York offices are based. The 30-story granite-colored structure is sandwiched in the Big Apple’s downtown area a mere stone’s throw from the entrance to the Brooklyn Bridge, City Hall and directly across from 26 Federal Plaza, its older, hulking sibling, which houses a similar beehive of alphabet soup agencies. Although the floors EPA occupies are managed by the U.S. General Services Administration and not EPA, we won’t quibble among feds. After all, we have the same uncle. Little did I suspect when I reported to work that this building has many stories to tell.
Unlike our cousins at EPA’s Washington, D.C. headquarters, we occupy a relatively new edifice, which was originally designed and constructed in a manner sensitive to the environment and its impact on society. Opened in 1994, the 1.2 million gross square foot locale was dedicated to Theodore (Ted) Weiss (September 17, 1927–September 14, 1992), an eminent New York congressman who represented the area. What are some of the building’s green features? Wind Power? Check. Energy-efficient lighting? Check. Our building literally speaks to us. “20th floor, bing, going up, 17th floor, bing, going down,” the elevator considerately declares for the visually challenged. Children who come to visit are intrigued by the elevator voice.
To add to its significance, 290 Broadway literally rests on holy ground. During excavation for the site, the remains of over 400 slave and free African Americans were discovered. As a consequence, the lobby and portions of the exterior make up parts of the African Burial Ground National Monument. The human remains were given a permanent resting-place there during a traditional reinternment ceremony October 4, 2003. Visitors and workers alike are mesmerized by the inspiring artwork and exhibits. Frank Bender’s “Unearthed” and Houston Conwill’s interactive “New Ring Shout”are only a few of the masterpieces that speak about America’s pain and passion for freedom. As a Nuyorican with African American, Spanish and Taino bloodlines, I could not be prouder to walk through our lobby every day. The U.S. National Park Service administers tours of the site, which serves as a powerful link between generations of Americans. Coming to work at EPA was already a fulfilling mission, but this skyscraper makes it a privilege abounding with noteworthy dimensions.