Elizabeth H. Berger Civic Leader and Champion of Lower Manhattan Dies at 53As published on DowntownNY.com
New York, NY (August 5, 2013) – Elizabeth H. Berger who as the President of the Alliance for Downtown New York and President of the Downtown-Lower Manhattan Association helped shape the reimagining and rebuilding of Lower Manhattan after the 9/11 attacks and who recently led a multifaceted effort to assist Lower Manhattan businesses and residents recover from the effects of Superstorm Sandy died on August 5th at Bellevue Hospital Center. She turned 53 this past Saturday. Her death was confirmed by the Alliance for Downtown New York and the cause of death was pancreatic cancer, an Alliance spokesperson said.
Ms. Berger joined the Alliance for Downtown New York as President in November 2007. The organization manages the Business Improvement District for Lower Manhattan and promotes Downtown as a premier global address for businesses, residents and visitors through programs, service and advocacy. Before her tenure as its President she served on the Alliance’s board as a resident representative for a number of years.
Under Ms. Berger’s leadership, the Downtown Alliance was recognized not only as a creative and efficient provider of public services but as a staunch and formidable advocate for the long term interests of downtown. During her tenure, the Alliance and Downtown-Lower Manhattan Association successfully advocated for full funding and timely completion of the Fulton Street Transit Center, the reconstruction of Fiterman Hall and the enactment of post-9/11 commercial leasing incentives.
Rather than focus on the district as the location of a terrible tragedy, Ms. Berger, renowned for her indefatigable energy and exacting intellect, was driven by a vision of Lower Manhattan as a place teeming with vitality and potential and a proving ground for municipal innovation. Innovation sometimes took the form of mitigating the near constant construction in Lower Manhattan over the last decade as with the Alliance’s widely celebrated Re:Construction program that turned construction sites into large scale canvases for public art or in the leadership the Alliance demonstrated as an early provider of free wi-fi service throughout the square mile of lower Manhattan below Chambers Street. During Ms. Berger’s tenure, the organization also expanded its bus service, the Downtown Connection, established the Hive at 55, a co-working facility for freelancers and entrepreneurs and undertook three comprehensive planning studies of Lower Manhattan all of whose conclusions left a mark on the built environment in New York.
“Liz Berger’s passion, sophistication and drive shaped Lower Manhattan as surely as any skyscraper or bulldozer,” said Robert R. Douglass, the Chairman of the Alliance for Downtown New York and the Downtown-Lower Manhattan Association. “Her strength as an advocate and strategist was only exceeded by her loyalty as a friend and her dedication as a mother and wife. She will be sorely missed.”
Elizabeth Harrie Berger was born on August 3, 1960 in New York City. She grew up at various times in New York City, Buffalo and Providence, Rhode Island.
Ms. Berger had decades of experience in government, community affairs and strategic planning. Prior to her time with the Alliance she established and built government relations practices at the law firms Lord Day & Lord Barrett Smith and LeBoeuf, Lamb Greene & MacRae and the Law Offices of Claudia Wagner. Ms. Berger is also credited with creating the Department of Government and External Affairs at Lincoln Center. She served as an Assistant Mayoral Representative to the New York City Council during the Koch administration.
A graduate of Yale College where she created her own major, The Study of the City, Ms. Berger was also involved with a variety of civic organizations in New York City beyond her professional obligations. She was at various times a board director of The Municipal Art Society, Film Forum, Second Stage Theatre, American Museum of Natural History Planetarium Authority and the New York Building Congress. She was also a mayoral appointee to the board of the Trust for Governors Island.
She was an unabashed partisan about the neighborhood where she lived, raised her family and worked. As she told the New York Times in 2010, “What I love about Lower Manhattan is that it has the biggest buildings on the smallest streets. It’s an internationally known destination but it’s a little village…. It’s intensely walkable and at the center of a regional transportation hub. And there’s the connection to the water — it’s one of the few places in Manhattan where you know it’s an island.”
In a statement released Monday evening Mayor Michael Bloomberg said of Ms. Berger, “Liz Berger loved our City with passion and gave her great intelligence and inventiveness to New York without reserve. She was more than an advocate for Lower Manhattan, she was a partner in building its future. As new transit hubs, skyscrapers, full access to our waterfront and a fresh vitality emerge downtown, Liz’s influences are everywhere to be seen. We shared a vision of Lower Manhattan as a model 21st century business and residential district, and thanks to her tireless work, it’s being realized before our eyes. The City mourns the loss of a great civic leader.”
She is survived by her husband Frederick Kaufman, daughter Phoebe, son Julian, her mother Anita, and brother Gideon.