Leagues toss a change-up on Pier 40 buildings idea

A view of how Pier 40 could look under a new plan proposed by the Pier 40 Champions coalition. Two 15-story towers — either for residential or commercial office use — would be built on land just east of the pier, but still within the Hudson River Park. Courtesy Pier 40 Champions

BY LINCOLN ANDERSON  |  The notion of constructing housing on Pier 40 to raise revenue for the cash-strapped Hudson River Park has met stiff resistance from some quarters — including from many Lower West Side residents and, most notably, Assemblymember Deborah Glick, whose district includes the pier.

Now, a coalition of the area’s youth sports leagues, which heavily use the crumbling West Houston St. pier — and which also support residential use on it — are “putting on a shift,” to use a baseball term. Their idea is still to construct new buildings in the park, not on Pier 40 itself, but instead in the open area between the pier and the Hudson River bike path. That area technically is within Hudson River Park.

A rezoning would be needed to allow the towers’ construction since the area’s zoning is manufacturing, from its days as a working waterfront.

The towers’ height is pegged at roughly 15 stories, and was based on the height of the nearby Morton Square apartment complex, which is around that tall. Due to the cramped space in front of Pier 40, the buildings would be narrow, only about 99 feet wide.

These towers would have less square footage than the towers seen in renderings in an earlier study for Pier 40 done this past spring by HR&A and Tishman. That study, also commissioned by the local youth sports leagues, found that adding 600 to 800 market-rate units on Pier 40 would generate high revenue for the park but with low impact when compared to other possible uses, like entertainment or destination retail. One rendering in that earlier study showed residential towers massed along the pier’s northern edge.

Called Pier 40 Champions, the new coalition includes P3, Downtown United Soccer Club, Greenwich Village Little League and Gotham Girls soccer. They have been working with architects at WxY Studios to come up with a sense of how residential — or possibly also commercial office use — might work at Pier 40. While the earlier Pier 40 study, done by high-powered planning consultants, cost six figures, this one cost only $25,000.

This new plan — and other concepts and proposals for Pier 40 and for the park’s funding — will be presented at a special Pier 40 forum held by Community Board 2 on Mon., Oct. 29, at 6:30 p.m. at P.S. 41, 116 W. 11th St.

The Pier 40 Champions plan features an elevated running track that would circle the pier’s courtyard, which would continue to be occupied by a massive artificial-turf playing field equal in size to two regulation-size soccer fields.

Cash but low impact
The aging pier needs $30 million in roof repairs and more than $100 million in long-term repairs for its pilings, money the Hudson River Park Trust doesn’t have. The Trust recently decided that, over the next five years, it will only make cheaper, temporary repairs on the pier, in hopes that a viable, long-term plan will emerge.

The key for Pier 40 Champions is that any revenue-raising plan preserve the pier’s existing sports fields, and that the leagues’ use of the fields not be interrupted during construction. Locating the towers just to the east of the pier — in the area currently used as a parking turnaround — would seem to accomplish that.

Fewer buildings on pier
Under the Pier 40 Champions scheme, buildings wouldn’t be added on Pier 40, but instead removed from it. Specifically, slightly less than half of the three-story pier shed that currently encircles Pier 40 would be demolished. (The pier shed is, in fact, made up of eight buildings connected by expansion joints. Three of these buildings would be removed.).

Razing some of the pier shed buildings would open sight lines and create new park areas, such as at the pier’s southwest corner, which offers the pier’s best river view. The thinking is that this corner would be programmed like Rockefeller Park at Chambers St. — people could lie on the grass, throw a frisbee or casually kick a soccer ball, but not play organized team sports.

In an added benefit, Pier 40 Champions contends, by siting the housing off of the pier rather than on it, construction costs would drop, the reasoning being it’s cheaper to build on land than over water.

Beyond revenue from the new residential or office buildings, revenue would also be generated — as it is now — by parking, to be located in the remaining shed structure on the pier’s western and northern sides. Stackers would possibly be used to maximize use of the parking space.

There would also be opportunities for “limited retail” on the pier, such as a cafe or juice bar on the ground-floor level.

‘Perfect for a school’
In addition, Pier 40 Champions thinks a school could work in the pier shed section that fronts on the West Side Highway. A few years ago, efforts for a Pier 40 school faded after the city’s School Construction Authority balked at its being over the water. But if a school was in the pier shed’s eastern section, students wouldn’t have to cross water to get to it, making Pier 40 Champions think S.C.A. might O.K. it.

The outside-the-box Pier 40 plan also offers an alternative cycling route: The Champions design shows a ramped path curving in toward Pier 40 and rising to its mezzanine level, then dropping back down to reconnect with the straightaway. This ramped path would bridge over the pier’s West Houston St. entrance, so the bikers would be separated from car traffic.

An overview of the Pier 40 Champions plan, showing where new park areas would be opened up by removing sections of the current pier shed that rings the 14.5-acre West Houston St. pier.

Jogging on another level
Also, the top inner rim of Pier 40’s shed structure would be preserved — at least enough to create a 15-foot-wide running track with a soft surface that would ring the pier’s central courtyard.

Inside the courtyard, the existing playing field space, equal to two regulation-size soccer fields, would be preserved. A smaller, rooftop, children’s sports field would be added on the pier’s southern side.

Tobi Bergman, president of P3 (Pier, Park & Playground Association), said the Champions plan achieves the group’s main goals.

“It would preserve the fields, with no interruption of use, even during construction,” he said, “and provide income to the Hudson River Park Trust, without overburdening the park with tourists, shopping and traffic.

“It’s sort of like Brooklyn Bridge Park, where the residential is being built on the other side of the park,” he noted. That outer-borough park is generating revenue from housing. Like Hudson River Park, Brooklyn Bridge Park is intended to be financially self-sustaining.

The elevated jogging track, for one, could be very popular, Bergman predicted.

“It’s interesting running because you’re watching kids playing baseball or soccer,” he said. “You’ve got interesting views of the river. My guess is that this would become a major attraction of the park.”

In addition to a rezoning, a legislation change to the Hudson River Park Act would also be needed to allow the towers, Bergman said.

As for the Trust’s response to the plan, Bergman said, “I think they’re excited about it.” The Champions opted not to do a financial study for it, though, leaving that for the Trust to do.

Wils: ‘Creative, intuitive’
Madelyn Wils, the Trust’s president, saw the proposal last Wednesday night at a meeting of the Greenwich Village Little League.

“My impression is that it’s a very innovative way of looking at this issue,” she said. “I give it an ‘A’ for creativity, and it’s also very intuitive.

“What we’re going to do is look at the numbers,” Wils said, “because the two buildings are half the size of what we studied putting on the pier that might be successful. We have to have some cost-estimating done. We need enough revenue to repair the pier and pay the Trust rent. We need to discuss it with our board members and city and state, and look at the numbers, and we’ll do this as quickly as we can.

“We’re interested in working with the community,” she said, though adding in the same breath, “Pier 40 is a very expensive issue.”

‘Tear down this wall’
Wils also noted approvingly that the Champions design makes the “experience of access to the pier much more gratifying” by taking down part of the pier shed along West St.

“It’s a three-block wall now,” she said disapprovingly of the pier shed. “It doesn’t look like a park.”

Wils stated she isn’t sure whether there will be a special session of the state Legislature in November or December at which possible changes to the Hudson River Park Act could be considered.

“But we need to be prepared,” she said.

Asked if the Trust still thinks residential use is the best option to save Pier 40 and provide funding for the full 5-mile-long park, Wils clarified, “We are not trying to build residential. We are trying to save Pier 40 and get revenue for the park. It should be the least impactful use with the most revenue.”

Asked if building between the bike path and Pier 40 would be cheaper than building on the pier, she said, “The permitting is easier and it will take less time to do it on the esplanade. Time is money, so you’d save some money by doing that.”

Last month Wils announced that Pier 40 is now officially “in liquidation mode.” The Trust will make temporary repairs to the massive structure for the next five years, but after that, the cost of fixing the pier will exceed the potential for revenue the Trust can hope to collect from it.

Closures possible in ’13
More immediately, the Trust is set to start a “phased shutdown” of the pier.

“We’ll look at starting to close down the second and third floors of the southern portion of the pier during the next year, as our engineers tell us,” Wils said.

Glick: ‘An earnest attempt’
Assemblymember Glick has repeatedly said she won’t support a legislative change to allow residential use on Pier 40. Of the Champions plan, she said, “It’s an earnest attempt to accommodate the use promoted by the Trust, even though the use is not allowed by zoning or the park act. Obviously, with only 60 acres of real parkland [in Hudson River Park] versus 330 acres in Riverside Park, the adaptive reuse of Pier 40 is more appropriate than huge residential developments — whether it’s on the pier or on the esplanade.”

Assemblymember Richard Gottfried, who represents Hudson River Park north of 14th St., on the other hand, supports the Pier 40 residential option as the best way to save the pier and provide money for the entire park’s operation.

Gottfried: ‘Maybe an option’
“The Pier 40 Champions proposal is creative and seems to resolve several issues,” Gottfried said. “It may well should be added to the list of options to consider. I’d want to hear what people from the community around Pier 40 think of it.”

In addition to Bergman, other leading members of the Champions offered their views of why this could be the best chance to save the pier as they know it, a place thousands of kids from local youth leagues enjoy playing sports.

“Being without the fields at Pier 40, even on a temporary basis, is not an option,” said Isaac-Daniel Astrachan, a DUSC board member. “This is a realistic vision for Pier 40. Given the state of disrepair of the pier, the status quo is not viable.”

John Economou, president of Greenwich Village Little League, said, “To sit back idly and not actively look to save Pier 40 would be turning our backs on the community and our children.”

Rich Caccappolo, past G.V.L.L. president, said, “The game-changer is the realization that there are 99 feet between the bike path and the pier, which means that a significant structure might be able to be built on land, not on the pilings.”

Focused on future
Daniel Miller, another G.V.L.L. past president, said, “We strongly believe that by allowing high-income development that demands a high price per square foot in rent, we can expand the pier’s current footprint without generating unwanted and unrelated foot traffic from inappropriate development like retail or entertainment. Our focus is on our children, and our children’s children. I want to walk by Pier 40 in 50 years, granted with the aid of a cane, sit down on a park bench that not only has a great view of the Statue of Liberty, but also of a youth soccer match or baseball game, and feel good that we accomplished something special many years ago.”

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10 Responses to Leagues toss a change-up on Pier 40 buildings idea

  1. My children grew up playing at Pier 40. I now play soccer at Pier 40. I think this plan is a great idea and incorporates everything the community needs without bringing in shopping and tourists and more cars. It has my vote!

  2. I live, work and play within CB2 and think that this is an amazing concept. By utilizing the upland parking turnaround (which nobody considers a "park"), this plan not only preserve the ball fields and avoids the over commercialization of the park, it literally doubles the amount of park space at ground level. It's innovative thinking like this that our park-starved community needs.

    • Patrick Shields

      (For Terrence): Understand your comment, but please don't speak unilaterally. The turnaround is in the park, and it is 100% able to be developed as park space. (And generally): If there is so much effort being spent on "alternatives" to housing, we still have yet to see a single one that is viable, other than MLS. Nothing, yet. And it's understood that the dialogue is opening up, but if everyone else is being asked to step back and take a breath, those pushing the housing plan have to do the same, and quit pretending they are open to alternatives. Again, as before, put your name squarely on what you support, and let's quit with the lip service about "other possibilities". If the idea, and it it beginning to appear that way, is that the sports community is going to rally around a plan, and overwhelm Glick with majority demand, then be honest about it.

      • Hey Patrick,

        That's just not true. It's been 15 years and no viable proposal has come up for the pier unless you consider a soccer stadium for 35,000 seats with all the fields privatized a good idea. None of the people working on the Pier 40 Champions initiative would be anything but delighted to see other viable plans put forward. But we don't want to start with broad principles against one limited residential use because it may be the use that earns the most for the whole park, leaves the most space for new park, and has the lest negative impacts. We want to start with important goals and try to find ways to achieve them.

        The "turnaround" is theoretical park. But look at every pier that has a building on it: Pier 57, Chelsea Piers…all the way up to 57th Street. Not a single one has space reserved for anything but cars. And there are reasons. The cars need a place to go when they get to the edge and the area, squeezed between structure and highway, is intrinsically unsuitable for riverside park. It just seems to make sense, if it's possible, to open up the pier to the rest of the park and to the water and put the necessary development as close to "the city" as possible. It just seems like a good idea to exchange the park space in this bad place for park space on facing the river.

        The families of children who play at Pier 40 want to join the conversation. The pier is incredibly important in their lives so they don't want to be left out when decisions are made. It seems strange people would be asked to defend themselves for wanting to be heard, that this is something one would be anything but "honest about". I don't know that there is a majority opinion about Pier 40. Lots of people don't know much about it yet. I hope many will come to PS 41 at 6:30 on October 29th to hear Deborah Glick and others and to learn about and talk about real solutions for the future of the pier and Hudson River Park.

        Tobi

        • "The families of children who play at Pier 40 want to join the conversation."
          They have been the only voice allowed at the table in discussing Pier 40.
          When you have as a condition of the plan you funded and every subsequent discussion about Pier 40 as you lay hostage to the rest of Hudson River Park that not only are the fields intact but that during construction these fields remain open lets just say their voices are already heard load and clear.
          That's being honest.
          And the privatization of the park by putting housing in the park or on a pier is something that was fought against for decades in order to create the Hudson River Park and predates these fields is something you are just willing to legislate out.

  3. What a great plan – we don't need more shopping places; we need to keep our open spaces! I love being at Pier 40, crumbly though it is now, it's a fabulous open space for sports & plays such a vital role in the community — always packed with teams young and not-so-young. Got my vote.

  4. Madelyn Wils is being disingenuous if she implies this is the first she has seen this plan.
    She has worked hand in hand with Tobi Bergman in the last project and has also in this plan.
    MS. Wils is only open to plans that focus on the Luxury housing option on park option ridiculing the MLS proposal as well as other proposals. To that effect Tobi Bergman is assumes the roll of the Trust's Sock Puppet.
    I think however the school idea is an excellent option for compromise.
    Expanding park use to include housing development for the 1% or hotel for tourists –which is Dick Gottfried's only contribution is unfortunate.

    • Hi H

      Sock puppet here.

      True, Madelyn Wils was one of the first to see this concept. We even talked about the idea several times as our architects were preparing the plan. But it's not true she worked on it or that she saw it before about two weeks ago. The Downtown United Soccer Club, the Greenwich Village Little League, the Gotham Girls Football Club, and P3, serve thousands of families who derive great pleasure from sports activities at Pier 40. When Madelyn reached out to us and asked us to work with the Trust to help find a solution to the Park's troubles, we welcomed it, as did many others who joined a task force last year with elected officials and community boards. That group has helped identify many ways to help fund the park. There has been agreement on most things. Pier 40 remains difficult, and because of its great importance as both a potential funding resource and a potential open space resource, the solution here is the key to the solution for the whole park.

      We are asking people to be open to real solutions, not to insist on one. We prefer to start with goals, not principles or prejudices. The goals we chose for Pier 40 were these:
      1. Preserve the current sports fields and river connected uses with no interruption of use, even during construction. 2. Add new parkland with a variety of uses for the entire community, opening the pier to the park and the park to the river. 3. Fix the footprint, location, and access for commercial uses to protect public open space from negative impacts. 4. Provide reliable income to the Trust without overburdening the park with tourists, shoppers, and traffic.

      The ideas for our concept, and it is not yet a "plan", emerged from these goals and the conversations we had with many pier users and our architects, and yes, with Madelyn Wils. But that doesn't mean that it's the only idea that supports these goals or that these are the only legitimate goals. We do think it earns the concept a place on the table.

      As for a school: of course we love it. But public schools can't support the park and the School Construction Authority has to want to build one. We think it's a great place, but it can't happen without some significant commercial use to pay the way. Paying the way was the basis for the deal that created the park. That's why some people opposed it. But with Parks budgets in free fall citywide, it's not a likely time for that to change. And in some ways, given the lack of support for parks, we may be very very fortunate to have the opportunity to fund the maintenance of Hudson River Park the way we do. Most parks have to wait and hope. We can act.

      Best,
      Tobi

      • Appreciate you clearing a number of things.
        I do think this plan should be a the table and it's good to see, that unlike the other plan she and you developed last year to present at the invitation only closed door session of public servants and users of the park, this one has already been given to the press. The other, copies of which were not even allowed to leave the room as I remember and no one was allowed to talk to anyone outside the group.
        Paying the Way was not the deal that created the park and that's a convenient meme for you and Ms Wils to push. Especially when you are trying to say that housing is commercial use.
        Finally, while I appreciate you not "overburdening the park with tourists, shoppers, and traffic."
        You really are not talking about the "Park" you are just talking about your part of the park.
        Your front lawn. Your backyard. OK I get it. even though you knew that Pier 40 would need to be used "commercially" to help sustain the park. And those uses were specific in the Act.
        Now you want to change the legislative meaning of commercial use to what YOU want, what is acceptable to you. Meanwhile the rest of the park north of W29th St (the section of Hudson River Park represented Assembly Member Dick Gottfried) we have no park or fields but we do have lots of the tourists, and traffic and we can look forward to more development, hotel and housing and less park.
        You want to change the legislation on uses….do it for the entire park.
        Why just for the privileged West Village whose voices you claim have not be at the table.

  5. “We are not trying to build residential. We are trying to save Pier 40 and get revenue for the park."
    ROTFL…..did Ms. Wils actually pay a PR firm to come up with that comment?

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