NEW YORK CITY-Lower Manhattan has lost its greatest advocate.
Elizabeth H. Berger, president of the Downtown Alliance since 2007, died Monday after a battle with pancreatic cancer. The passionate civic leader—who turned the city’s lower reaches around after 9/11 and made the once dormant-after-5 p.m. area the place to be in recent years—turned 53 years old this past Saturday.
Under Berger’s leadership, the Downtown Alliance created a $1.5 million grant program for Lower Manhattan’s small businesses affected by Hurricane Sandy, opened mobile tourism information kiosks across the district, expanded and enhanced its signature bus service, the Downtown Connection, and convened a diverse stakeholder committee to advance Lower Manhattan as a location of choice for technology and innovative firms.
She also successfully advocated for full funding and timely completion of the Fulton Center, the reconstruction of Fiterman Hall, and the extension of post-9/11 commercial leasing incentives. The organization also launched community engagement programs under Berger’s watch, established the Hive at 55—Lower Manhattan’s first co-working facility for freelancers and entrepreneurs—and launched a free mobile application for iPhone and Android platforms. In addition, she was the driving force behind several comprehensive research reports and planning studies designed to showcase and advance Lower Manhattan.
Berger brought to the table more than three decades of experience in government, community affairs and strategic planning. She established government relations practices at three law firms and is credited with creating the department of government and external affairs at Lincoln Center. She even served the city under Mayor Edward I. Koch; working as an assistant mayoral representative to the New York City council from 1982 to 1989.
Berger served on a variety of boards for community organizations and also made contributions to photography. She has been a contributing editor to Aperture Magazine and was the co-author of Everything That Lives, Eats, an art photography book. A 30-year resident of Lower Manhattan, Berger is survived by her husband, writer Frederick Kaufman, an English professor at the City University of New York, and two children.
City officials were quick to express their remorse. Says Mayor Michael Bloomberg, “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.”
Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer says, “Liz was one of the great leaders of Lower Manhattan’s renaissance in the years since 9/11. Her dedication, vision and innovative spirit are directly responsible for some of the great additions to downtown life, like Manhattan’s first co-working facility for entrepreneurs and most recently, the $1.5 million grant program for local businesses affected by Hurricane Sandy. Her accomplishments at the Downtown Alliance and throughout her exceptional career are too many to mention, but what those of us who knew Liz will remember most is her friendship, loyalty and deep commitment to her community. I consider myself lucky to have counted Liz among my friends and colleagues.”