The time to save the park is now; Let’s work together

BY MADELYN WILS   |  For those who believe that we have plenty of time to finish building Hudson River Park, and specifically repairing Pier 40, let’s take a short trip back in time to review some of the events that have happened in the park since I became the Hudson River Park Trust’s president 10 months ago:

So far, we’ve seen:

• A sudden large bulkhead collapse in the Midtown section of the waterfront park following Tropical Storm Irene;

• Structural rot on the roof of Pier 40, necessitating $6 million in urgent repairs that the Trust frankly cannot afford;

• Corroding pier piles at Pier 40 that need to be repaired at a cost of $90 million;

• The sudden failure and shutting down of the majority of Pier 54 in the northern Greenwich Village community just three weeks ago due to pile damage by marine borers.

Sadly, the budget the Trust’s board of directors approved in March for the coming year shows the Trust spending more for emergency repairs on Pier 40 than we are taking in from parking revenues, resulting in a deficit of $7 million this year alone. This is a far cry from the intention of the Hudson River Park Act, where 50 percent of Pier 40’s footprint was designated for commercial uses intended to generate revenues to help support the 5-mile-long park.

Nearly 14 years after Albany legislators rewarded New Yorkers who had long advocated for an extraordinary waterfront park by passing the Hudson River Act, the park is an enormous success, welcoming 17 million visitors per year. It is beloved for its fields, beautiful vistas and open space.

Since starting this job almost one year ago, we have focused our determination to find ways to complete the park vision and make sure it is sustainable for the long term. Those entrusted with the park’s care must act responsibly to address the serious financial problems concerning the park’s maintenance — most immediately at Pier 40 given the massive scale of the pier’s physical problems. It is clearly time to rethink aspects of the Hudson River Park Act in order to protect the park for the future.

The Trust has been successful at increasing the amount of revenue generated at other commercial piers throughout the park, including Piers 81, 83 and 98 in Clinton. Plus, we are in the midst of an environmental review for Pier 57 that will also generate additional income.

However, none of this is enough. And through the Hudson River Park Strategic Planning Task Force — which includes all the elected officials who represent sections of the park, community boards and community members — there is a strong consensus that the park needs to find more ways, both inside the park and outside, to generate more income. But despite all of this, we still need to address Pier 40.

In the past, proposals for Pier 40 that included uses currently allowed — parking, retail and entertainment — have been loudly rejected by the community. Years later, with the continued deterioration of Pier 40, the park will need to spend its precious capital reserves on short-term stabilization measures instead of constructing new sections of the park. We cannot allow this to happen.

It is time for everyone who loves Hudson River Park to work together to find solutions to Pier 40 that are most beneficial to both the park and the community.

Fortunately, we think there is a solution, one that the community can rally behind.

By amending the Hudson River Park Act to lengthen the 30-year lease term and allow a greater range of potential uses other than the uses currently allowed and previously rejected, we have the best chance of attracting a wider range of proposals. We will gain greater leverage to negotiate from strength, yielding a better project for both the community and the park; and we have the potential of creating even more open or recreational space at Pier 40.

Pier 40 is one of only several items we need changed in the park act, but it is the property that is literally breaking the park’s back. The parking lot model may have once been viable but this is no longer the case. It’s time to learn from our past successes and failures. A solution does exist, one that requires some reworking of the Hudson River Park Act; but we need to act on it now if we want to maintain the beautiful park we have today and build on it for the future.

Let’s complete our goals. Let’s work together and complete our park.

Wils is president and C.E.O., Hudson River Park Trust

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