Local pols put heads together on Pier 40

At 14.5 acres, Pier 40, at W. Houston St., is seen as one of the Hudson River Park’s key “commercial nodes” for raising revenue for the park. But, under the Hudson River Park Act of 1998, the equivalent of 50 percent of the pier’s footprint must also be preserved for open recreational use. (File photo)

BY LINCOLN ANDERSON | Updated Thurs., Feb. 28, 2:30 p.m.: Local politicians are taking another swing at Pier 40, the Lower West Side’s youth baseball and soccer mecca. The effort’s clear goal is to change the park’s founding legislation — very possibly to allow commercial office use on the sprawling W. Houston St. pier.

What is being described as an “informal, staff-level working group” has been meeting since the start of this year. There have reportedly been about three meetings so far. These have involved staff members of local pols, including City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, Assemblymember Deborah Glick, Congressmember Jerry Nadler, state Senators Brad Hoylman and Brian Kavanagh and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer.

Pier 40, covering 14.5 acres, is currently one of two remaining so-called “commercial nodes” in Hudson River Park that can be used to generate additional revenue for the 4.5-mile-long park. However, the Hudson River Park Act of 1998 specifically does not allow commercial office use at Pier 40.

One staffer who has been involved in the meetings, and requested anonymity, said the hope is for the legislative changes to be made this session. The Assembly and state Senate reconvened in Albany last month and their current session extends through June.

Another objective, he said, is to “get an R.F.P. going,” meaning a request for proposals from interested private parties to redevelop the pier.

“It’s a renewed effort to find consensus on Pier 40,” the staffer said.

The Diamonds were shining at last summer’s Greenwich Village Little League Opening Day on Pier 40. The huge W. Houston St. pier is considered “Downtown’s Central Park” by local families and youth leagues. (File photo)

Previous efforts to redevelop the pier have all sunk, mainly due to a mix of economic factors and community opposition. Twelve years ago, for example, the Related Companies pitched an ambitious plan that would have included the Tribeca Film Festival and Cirque du Soleil. But locals derided it as “Vegas on the Hudson,” and warned its impact on the pier, the park and the community would have been too great.

The local legislators also recently sent a letter to the Hudson River Park Trust requesting “updated financials” for Pier 40. The pier’s main revenue-generating component right now is long-term car parking, which, in fact, provides a significant portion of the whole park’s operating budget.

The pier’s other key aspect is its playing fields, which are heavily used by local youth leagues and are a sacred cow for Downtown families.

The Trust’s leadership has indicated commercial office use is now something they think would work well, relatively speaking, on the pier, in terms of financial viability.

In 2017, Community Board 2 created a Future of Pier 40 Working Group, which, through a public process, allowed West Siders and park users to weigh in the future of the pier, and of the park over all. The source said the current effort will be using that previous task force’s findings “as a guide.”

Topics up for discussion include the lease length for the pier, as well as “programming scenarios,” plus whether Pier 40 should be redeveloped with “part office space or all office space,” in terms of its commercial component, the staffer added.

“We’ll see what we have in a couple of months,” he said.

Asked if there would be opportunity for public input into this process, the staff member assured there would be, and that the working group’s ideas will be presented to C.B. 2, which the working group has already met with once. The working group will continue to be in close contact with the community board about its thinking on Pier 40, the source said.

Another question is whether the proposed legislative changes would be left until the very end of the Albany session to be voted on. Six years ago, the Trust worked to stealthily slip in an amendment to the Park Act on the very last day of the Legislature’s session, authorizing air-rights transfers from the park to development sites on the other side of the West Side Highway.

In her monthly newsletter to Community Board 2 last Thursday, Assemblymember Glick said, “It is imperative that, if any changes are made to the Hudson River Park Act that will allow for future development at Pier 40, they must evoke the desires of the greater community of residents and park users while also contributing to the financial stability of the park and its future.”

Glick added, “Because Pier 40 is the largest open space in Hudson River Park and the location of recreational ball fields that are essential to the many youth and adult sports leagues in Manhattan, and Downtown families in particular — a solution for all stakeholders must be found.”

The assemblymember said the local legislators whose districts include Pier 40 “have committed to meeting regularly throughout the 2019 legislative session, and participating in a transparent, community-driven public process, in order to discuss a common-sense approach for the redevelopment of Pier 40 and any potential changes to the Hudson River Park Act.”

Asked about the working group last week, state Senator Hoylman said, “We want to take a hard look at the Act and see if we have to make any changes.” The goal, he said, is “to keep the ball fields and create a revenue stream that’s not entirely based on parking.”

While his state Senate colleague Kavanagh’s district actually includes Pier 40, Hoylman’s district covers the area surrounding the pier.

The Hudson River Park Trust is the state-city authority that is building and operates the whole park, which last year celebrated its 20th anniversary.

Madelyn Wils, the Trust’s president and C.E.O., said the local elected officials are working to come up with a plan for Pier 40 that also meets the Trust’s goals for the key pier, and that indeed the aim is to amend the Park Act this session.

She said the Trust still thinks office use is the way to go for redeveloping the pier’s commercial component, and that a longer lease is needed. The Trust has long said that a longer lease would make the pier more attractive to potential developers.

“We’re going to work with the elected officials,” Wils assured.

Asked about an R.F.P. being released for Pier 40, she indicated that there’s a process, and that step could come in due time, but only if the legislation is modified to allow commercial office use at the pier.

“We’re not putting out any R.F.P.,” she stated. “We can’t put out an R.F.P. for something that is not legal. We want to see where we are in June.”

On Tues., Feb. 26, the newly resuscitated C.B. 2 Pier 40 Working Group held its first meeting. Noreen Doyle, a Trust senior V.P., reported the Trust favors a full tear-down of Pier 40’s pier shed for the pier’s redevelopment rather than “band-aid” fixes as part of a so-called adaptive reuse of the existing structure.

In addition, the Hudson River Park Trust Advisory Council meets Mon., March 11, at Village Community School, 272 W. 10th St., at 6:30 p.m., and Pier 40 will be firmly on the agenda. C.B. 2 reportedly hopes to have a new resolution stating its opinion on the future of Pier 40 done by April.

20 Responses to Local pols put heads together on Pier 40

  1. Yes, HRP needs commercial enterprises to operate, maintain, and expand the Park. But Manhattan does not need ANOTHER office building. And, an office building in HRP is not an office park; it is a park. Pier 57 is already an office; there are greater possibilities to provide revenue to the park within the true nature of HRP's original mission. I only hope the politicians and HRP leadership have some imagination and vision and can not fall prey to what may be short-term easy but long-term hard.

    • Pier 57 will have office space, but it also has park space, a marketplace, educational spaces and arts spaces. The design of Pier 57 was the result of collaboration between the Trust, the developer, Google and the community. That same level of cooperation needs to be in place for Pier 40.

  2. Pier 40 contributes 25% of the revenue generated by commercial spaces within HRP. This percentage must be maintained. The amount of field space should be expanded. Anything that achieves those 2 goals, whether office space or otherwise, is a good solution.

    • "field space" is not what Pier 40 was put into the law to do. Little league is a great thing, but maybe they need to do that somewhere else. Pier 40 is written into law to fund the rest of the park. Let Pier 40 do what it's supposed to do, and put the ball fields on Gansevoort Peninsula or P55. We have all of Manhattan turning into office space, do we really need it on our waterfronts? A few privileged locals with undue influence are forcing politicians to squeeze little league into someplace it was not meant for and that's causing all the problems with achieving any goal, moreless 2 of them.

      • First of all, the law does not require the park to be self-funding. There are designated commercial spaces to raise revenue but not to fund the entire park. Second, at least 50% of the area of Pier 40 has to be park/open spaces, so there will be some sort of open space on Pier 40. Given the size of the pier, it is one of the few spaces that can be used for ballfields and I will tell you this – if you are advocating removing the ballfields, you are going after a sacred cow that will have the community up in arms.

        • It is not absolute, but feel free to let us know what I'm missing in the Act: "It is intended that to the extent practicable and consistent with the intent of subdivision (c) of this section, the costs of the operation and maintenance of the park be paid by revenues generated within the Hudson river park and that those revenues be used only for park purposes."

          It is not up to me to go after anything, ballfields or otherwise, but is seems obvious by now, after years of CB schemes and backroom dealing, that achieving 2 goals is impossible.

          Tall commercial buildings on Pier 40 is about the only option left. People don't like that on the Island, so they will really hate it on the Pier. Do you really want half of Manhattan hating privileged children of rich parents for the rest of their lives?

          I get the "sacred cow" thing, and Mr. Bergman has made sure that he and only he runs this show, but is it really Right for such an unelected few to have that much influence? Gansevoort Peninsula seems like a much better option.

          • "To the extent practicable" — as you say, it is not absolute. But people (including elected officials) have historically claimed that the provision in question means HRP has to be self-funding, and state and city funding, until last year, was minimal. And that funding was for capital projects, not operations.

            Parks should not have to be self-sustaining. They are necessary for the survival of the people who live and work in this city. But so long as elected officials treat parks as a "nice to have" not a "must have" parks will have to rely on outside funding. Thus, the revenue from Pier 40 is essential to the future of HRP. Every other commercial site within HRP is in Chelsea/Hells Kitchen. Pier 40 must generate its share.

          • That being said, my preference would be to have whatever development is needed to generate the revenue target, but no more. I believe the ballfields at Pier 40 are essential to the people of the West Side and should be expanded, consistent with my first point.

            It is a tough balancing act, no doubt, but I do not accept that both needs cannot be met.

          • Post-Sandy neither option is going to be possible. There is a more important balance – RESILIENCY. The Working Group wants to build a wall to protect the park, but that will never work. Unfortunately, the park itself must be the wall! On the eastside they're planning to raise their park by 10 feet. The same will have to be done in this park to protect the inland buildings.

            It would be absolutely absurd to build anything west of HRPark (on the piers) that will be washed away when the next storm blows in. The park needs to reduce its budget and stop with the ornamental horticulture and stop any plans to spend millions on these piers. Less is more.

            Is it fair to make taxpayers rebuild again when everything on these piers is swept away or ruined? No one denies that it will happen again. Why isn't the Working Group making plans like they are on the eastside? Sandy fooled us once, but fool HRPT next time??? The HRPT should not waste money they claim they don't have.

          • On that basis, we might as well fold up half the island. My apt is in a flood zone – should I move? Should they shut down the construction across the street from me?

            We can take steps to ensure resiliency without giving up moving forward. Buildings in FLA are built to hurricane-proof standards. New buildings are going up on the west side that are all taking steps for resiliency. These same steps should be taken for whatever is developed on Pier 40, but using resiliency as an excuse not to do anything is just that – an excuse.

          • If HRP is not built up by 10 feet or more, then, yes, you should move (or pay a lot more in insurance). As for the construction across the street, they can do what they want as long as they don't put your residence at risk or want my tax dollars when they get flooded.

            "We can take steps to ensure resiliency" — based on the Working Group meeting I attended last night, this is not factually nor financially true for HRP, but feel free to say it until the next flood comes. "Hurricane-proof standards" aren't the problem, the water is; and that's why we can only get flood insurance from the US Govt. Water is a big loser unless your "New buildings are going up", and I'm guessing that tall/up is not what you want in HRP, but feel free to say if I'm wrong.

            Post-Sandy, all the grand plans for Pier 40 and other HRP piers -ballfields and all- must be tossed out. New plans must be designed that have yet to be contemplated, and that's not happening…. YET, which was the one smart thing that Mr. Bergman said last night.

  3. The legislative Act covering Pier 40 was created and writtne over a long painstaking period. The people who wrote put in a lot of time and effort. It was passed into law with support of the voters. It is insightful and well-considered — IT SHOULD NOT BE CHANGED!!! No way. No how.

    Having meetings without community input by a select few kills any Trust left in the HRPTrust and CB2. Taking away the voters previous consent is amoral, but people willing to do so are always the first ones to wonder why more people don't vote. ugh! Wrong. Wrong. WRONG!

  4. "Water Dependent Uses." "Water Dependent Uses." The Acts says that over and over again in regard to Pier 40 and that is what it should be used for. Read the Act. Follow the law. The people have spoken, and it would be unconscionable for a select few to change their intention.

    • Actually, I think you need to re-read the Act. The only references to Pier 40 in the Act are to the 50% requirement, parking, and the sale of air rights.

      • from the Working Group final report: "In response to concerns of adjacent communities, the Act significantly limited the allowed “park/commercial” uses. Throughout the Park, it specifically prohibits amusement parks, riverboat gambling, residences, and commercial offices, and at Pier 40, IT ALLOWS ONLY WATER–‐DEPENDENT USES, entertainment, and commercial recreation."

        • OK, so now you've gone from quoting the Act, which is the law of the State of New York, with the report of a Working Group. Second, if you search the text of the Act for "Pier 40" that's not what it says.

  5. The HRPT needs to get the solid materials from the Union Carbide building moved to the park and laid flat all up and down it. Then cover that concrete with soil and sand to create dunes and barriers. Grow some beachgrass and cattails, and it could be elevated cheaply and easily way before the east side covers their recently renovated ($) track and field with 8 feet of dirty.

  6. Ralph G Perillo

    We need parking in Greenwich Village !

    Why won’t they address parking !

    This stinks !

    • Actually, since cars can be moved in the days before a big flood and parking spaces don't float away, your need has a better chance of being realized than the kids'.

      Also, the HRPT reallllly wants to make big $$$ on Pier 40, so you may be in the driver's seat here, pun intended. (personally, I hate cars in the City, but unfortunately the almighty dollar rules.)

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