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

  1. Why won't Ms. Wils release the study that Mr. Gottfried says was "commissioned by the Trust"?
    Why were members of this selected group of the Advisory Council allowed to take this study to their respective elective officials? Why isn't the public allowed to see what parameters were used in this study by these paid consultants?
    How can the Press independently report on these issues and changes when members of this Council were told NOT to speak to the press?
    What EXACTLY is this "greater range of potential uses other than the uses currently allowed and previously rejected" that you want us to just blindly rally behind as one to nobly SAVE THE PARK?
    Do you want us to allow these potential uses throughout the park designated as "commercial or recreational" or only on Pier 40 whose residents help shape the parameters of this study.
    It's HOUSING you want us to approve. That's the dirty secret. Up to 800 units of luxury HOUSING on park.
    And this will be better for the nearby neighborhood because those rents will be expensive.
    And exclusive. And the taxpayers have already helped to make it a good neighborhood now we can make it an exclusive one.
    How will 800 apartments impact the local school district? Police? Fire? You are aware that the West Side is already exploding with residential housing.
    What are you suggesting when you ask us to amend an Act which prohibited Housing when you say you want a range of uses (caveat other than the ones already rejected) and why not if you are able to get the bonding and lease extensions you are now asking CAN"T you revisit some of those options?
    Why would they no longer be tenable?

  2. If the pier is rotting, isn't it more cost-effective to let it sink into the river and become a habitat for fish and other river life? There seems to be no good reason to spend all this money on one pier. Let it go! Budget problem solved. Focus on the park land and move on.

    • Patrick Shields

      Not true, in fact it exacerbates the budget problem. The point is that the pier has become a (very difficult to solve) necessity in terms of providing revenue to support the rest of the park. There is no where else on the park with a footprint big enough to allow a combination of development and recreation/passive use space big enough and open enough to accomplish this. What you actually suggesting sounds more like an environmental and maritime disaster on a working river. "Budget problem solved" is an easy statement to make, cartoonishly easy, and addresses nothing that is happening in the real budget and construction world of this pier and this park. How do you propose to pay for the remainder of construction and ongoing upkeep? Ice cream sales in a kiosk? Bicycle rental revenue? For the record, I support a potential Major League Soccer plan as the best possible compromise and oppose any form of housing on the pier.

  3. Let's face facts.

    The people who come to Pier 40 come because of athletics.
    Locals would be open to "solutions" if the playing space could be guaranteed to remain.

    A usage tax for users of the pier or a usuage tax for residents who have benefitted from the pier two to four blocks from the pier might be a simple solution. How about farmer's markets or other activities that are not disruptive to the use of the fields?

    High rise buildings are not the answer. But finding ways to use the current footprint are

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