BY SAM SPOKONY | The city’s new effort to turn Pier 42 into a park began in earnest last Thursday night, as Parks Department officials, landscape architects and Community Board 3 hosted a forum aimed at getting local residents’ input on potential plans.
The mostly vacant 8-acre space, which sits along the East River waterfront just past the intersection of Montgomery and South Sts., has already seen two failed attempts at revitalization, in 2005 and 2009. But nearly $16 million of new funding has allowed the city to begin taking formal steps toward making the pier’s redevelopment a reality. The money was secured earlier this year by state Senator Daniel Squadron and U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer, and supplied by the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation.
The community meeting on Thursday was led mainly by Signe Nielsen, principal of Mathews Nielsen, the architectural firm hired by the city to design the future park. Along with other representatives of that firm, Parks Department project managers Doug Nash and Lawrence Mauro were on hand to hear what residents want — or don’t want — Pier 42 to look like.
The problem was, only a handful of the 40 or so people in attendance were actually local residents.
“That was my biggest concern,” said Kerri Culhane, associate director of the Two Bridges Neighborhood Council, who was present that night. “The session was announced without much outreach beforehand. So we really need to see more outreach within the neighborhood, because whatever the design ends up being, that community input will be vital.”
Nielsen later admitted that the meeting had been put together “pretty hastily,” and that her firm didn’t even have time to complete all of their preliminary studies of the pier before the city asked them to begin the community outreach process. Mathews Nielsen was awarded the contract for the Pier 42 project in May, but wasn’t actually able to begin studying the area until last month. The firm hopes to have a master plan in place by next March. One piece of information the architects were in fact able to digest over the past month, as Nielsen reported on Thursday, may not bode well for the development process.
The underside of the pier’s deck, which juts out over the river, she explained, is in extremely poor condition and will be expensive to fix. The question is whether or not to retain that structure — which is separate from the pier’s large shed, which sits entirely on land — and how to financially navigate any number of possible approaches involving the deck.
But, in keeping with the evening’s brainstorming mode, Nielsen told residents not to get too hung up on that.
“This is something we’ll talk more about in the future, she said, “but for tonight let’s just dream, and not worry about the cost.”
Another potential snag in the pier’s redevelopment will be the need to relocate a Department of Transportation maintenance facility currently on the pier. As with the deteriorating deck, solutions for that problem weren’t fully addressed on Thursday, and it’s unclear what the city plans to do about it.
The few residents in attendance did eventually have a chance to break into smaller groups in order to share their ideas for Pier 42. The opinions ran the gamut — including possible uses for both the green space and the river — but an overwhelming theme was, unsurprisingly, a push for a park catering to locals of all ages, especially children and seniors.
“There’s definitely a lack of services for those two groups in our area right now,” said Sallie Stroman, who has lived virtually across the street from pier for more than 40 years, speaking after the meeting. “We want an open space that everyone can enjoy, not just tourists, because it’s really going to have a huge impact on this community.”
Carolina Salguero, director of Portside New York — a Brooklyn-based group that advocates for innovative use of city waterways — attended the forum in an attempt to remind local residents that Pier 42 holds great potential for the entire city, and isn’t just their own backyard.
“If the pier is taken apart solely for the purpose of community use and programming, I would call that irresponsible,” Salguero said in an interview after the meeting. “There needs to be some awareness of the importance this site could have, in terms of providing ferry transportation or bringing in historic vessels.”
The Pier 42 planning process will continue with another community meeting on Nov. 28.
In response to a question about Thursday’s poor turnout, a Parks spokesperson said the C.B. 3 meetings are just part of the city’s outreach plan. He said the outreach will also include meetings with tenant associations from nearby public housing developments and other neighborhood organizations, as well as surveys to be distributed to people in East River Park and elsewhere in the community.
There will also be a Waterfront Community Day at Pier 42 on Sat., Nov. 3, from 12 p.m. to 4 p.m., which will be the first time the pier is open for public use. That event will be sponsored by the Hester Street Collaborative, the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council, the Lower East Side Waterfront Alliance, state Senator Squadron and the Parks Department.