Solving Pier 40

Last week, we reported on Major League Soccer’s ambitious plan to build a 25,000-seat soccer stadium and community youth sports facility at Pier 40, at W. Houston St.

The stadium would be home to a new pro soccer team, which would play 20 to 30 games there per season. Matches would mostly be on Saturday evenings, from 7:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.

With Pier 40 continuing to deteriorate and needing more than $100 million in repairs over the next 15 years — including urgent repairs — it behooves everyone to keep an open mind about this important facility and the long-term health of Hudson River Park.

That said, let’s first look at the pros of the MLS proposal. MLS would pay for the pier’s repair. In addition, local youth and adult sports leagues would be able to use the stadium field when it’s free, and there would also be other playing fields open for community use on the pier. Indeed, MLS says, under its plan, field space on the pier and playing time for local leagues would both increase. Contact with the MLS team and their outreach programs would provide an enormous boost to New York, and specifically Downtown, soccer at all levels.

However, on the con side, first, one has to wonder if the existing transportation network could accommodate such a stadium. Yes, there are multiple subway lines relatively nearby — but some of the stations are quite small, such as the closest, at Houston and Varick Sts.

Simply put, is there a way to mitigate the impact of 20,000-plus soccer fans flooding through the neighborhood at peak times before and after games?

More to the point, now is the time that everyone — from the Hudson River Park Trust, to local politicians, to the community task force studying both Pier 40 and the whole park, to local residents — must keep their minds open about solving the Pier 40 dilemma.

Two previous attempts to redevelop the pier sunk. Requests for proposals (R.F.P.s) yielded such unpopular mega-plans as a huge oceanarium and The Related Company’s “Vegas on the Hudson,” featuring Cirque du Soleil. Again, the impact on the pier and the surrounding community were the chief concerns.

Some think high-end housing and/or a hotel could work at Pier 40, with the sports fields retained, of course. However, as with a stadium, the Hudson River Park Act would need to be changed to allow these uses.

Also, in the last R.F.P., the short-term lease mandated by the park act (not more than 30 years ) was a deal-breaker — thankfully so, in that case. But to land a viable tenant to fix the pier and pay the Trust sufficient rent, the lease term likely must be extended.

The local nonprofit group Pier, Park and Playgrounds (P3), Greenwich Village Little League and Downtown United Soccer Club are funding an outside consultant to brainstorm on ideas for Pier 40. Tishman/Aecom recently took over this study from HR & A Advisors. This undertaking is unconstrained by the use restrictions in the park’s legislation — all options are on the table. The study should finish in the next several weeks and will be presented to the task force.

Our local leaders can’t be afraid to modify the park act, as needed, if it means the difference between saving and losing Pier 40. We’re eager to see the study’s recommendations. That would be the starting point for any possible changes to the park act.

Just as the study is doing, it’s time to think outside the box on Pier 40 — because, at this point, that’s likely where the solution may be found.

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