In Hell’s Kitchen, Pier 97 design ideas starting to heat up

Pier 97 has been rebuilt as a concrete slab, but it needs to be fitted out with recreational park features. Photo by Tequila Minsky

BY SYDNEY PEREIRA | The Hudson River Park Trust is beginning to hash out another “puzzle piece” of the 4.5-mile West Side waterfront park this fall — this time in the park’s Hell’s Kitchen section.

After Governor Andrew Cuomo shelled out $50 million in funding for the park earlier this year, the Trust is partnering with a design firm, !melk, to field ideas for $30 million in renovations at Pier 97, at W. 57th St. The process started at the Community Board 4 Waterfront, Parks and Environment Committee meeting on Thurs., Nov. 8.

“This is literally the kickoff,” said Kevin Quinn, the Trust’s senior vice president of design and construction.

The renovation project includes the pier itself and a portion of the upland area (onland portion of the park) right by the pier, for a total of 1.8 acres of future Hell’s Kitchen amenities.

“We are looking for that final puzzle piece to make it fantastic here,” said Jerry van Eyck, founder of !melk. The design firm famously designed an urban park in the middle of the Las Vegas Strip and also worked on designs for the Governors Island master plan.

Some community members mentioned the popular Pier 25 in Tribeca — which the Trust touts as its most heavily used pier — as a possible reference point for how to design Pier 97.

“[Pier 25] meets a lot of the needs of the community,” said Lowell Kern, C.B. 4 Parks Committee co-chairperson.

A historic photo of Pier 97 during its working-waterfront heyday when it was used by the Swedish American Line.

He added he wouldn’t necessarily advocate for duplicating Pier 25 exactly, but would consider some of its features for the W. 57th St. pier. Pier 25 includes a mini-golf course, sand volleyball courts, a playground (currently undergoing renovations), a turf lawn for active and passive recreation, and the historic 85-year-old steamship Lilac.

Myriad ideas were floated at the Board 4 meeting, echoing pitches from a meeting earlier this year. Some wanted historical references embedded into the design, as well as to expand the Trust’s historic vessels project to Pier 97. The former maritime pier was used by the Swedish American Line decades ago.

Others voiced support for lighting designed to minimize light pollution, adding an amphitheater, building a swimming pool that could function as a skating rink in the winter, a beach, rock climbing, open green space and a pedestrian bridge between De Witt Clinton Park and Pier 97. Some attendees stressed the need for public restrooms, noting that nearby activities already lack adequate facilities for the waterfront park, which is jam-packed in good weather.

A skatepark at Pier 97 would be the apple of the Apples’ eyes. Photo by Sydney Pereira

Skateboards and helmets in tow, a skateboarding family and their friends advocated for a skatepark, similar to the one at Pier 62, at W. 22nd St., also in Hudson River Park.

For Mary Apple, a Chelsea resident and mother of two young children, having skateparks allows her kids to skateboard somewhere safe. She said her family relies on Pier 62’s skatepark.

Apple was also excited about the possibility of an outdoor shade structure.

“New York is so hot in the summer, too cold in the winter [for skating],” she said. “There is no break from the sun.”

The Nov. 8 meeting had a “rich mixing of ideas,” said Marty de Kadt, the C.B. 4 Parks Committee co-chairperson. “Now it’s back to the design people to sift it.”

C.B. 4 member Tina DiFeliciantonio pushed the Trust to detail any restrictions, such as financially, that might affect the renovation, so that the public could have a sense of what is realistically achievable.

“I’ve been a filmmaker for 35 years and creative ideas come easily,” DiFeliciantonio said. “As a producer, I can’t waste time, energy and other resources thinking about ideas I can’t put on the screen.”

She urged the Trust to do the same, though added, “I’ll call them ‘boundaries,’ rather than ‘limitations.’ ”

Trust representatives noted that designs must abide by rules regarding open views to the water down the 57th St. corridor, structures on the pier itself, and adding new structures in the water — the latter which is not allowed. But at least no major structural renovations will be necessary on the basic structure of the pier, which has already been rebuilt. Quinn said the pier is in “great shape.”

The public can send comments to the Hudson River Park Trust’s design partner !melk at [email protected] or attend a design workshop on Dec. 4, at the Via building, 625 W. 57th St. Check the Community Board 4 Web site for meeting time and room.

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