Pier 40 reality

More than 400 people turned out for a major forum on Pier 40 last Thursday evening. David Gruber, chairperson of Community Board 2, convened the forum and did an admirable job moderating it, and is to be commended for his efforts.

Much information was shared, and we all learned a lot. The major stakeholders had their say, including the backers of two competing concept designs for the pier: Douglas Durst’s adaptive reuse plan and the Pier 40 Champions’ proposal for two 22-story residential towers to be sited at the foot of the massive West Houston St. pier.

But last week’s forum, in our view, is just the beginning of what must necessarily be a carefully considered and ongoing dialogue. In short, the issues confronting Pier 40 are not going to be solved overnight — and are not going to be solved, for that matter, in the next seven months or the next 10 months.

Residential use has been pushed by the Hudson River Park Trust, the state-city authority that is building and operating the 5-mile-long park. Yes, residential could be the so-called “quick fix” that the Trust is looking for. It is after all the “highest use” in New York — the type of project that generates the most revenue. And revenue is precisely what’s needed to repair the 50-year-old former Holland-America shipping pier. But the Hudson River Park Act of 1998 doesn’t allow housing in the park — and for a very good reason. This is a park: It’s about open air and unbroken vistas. The park act wasn’t created overnight, nor should it be modified overnight.

(And, honestly, how many people are really going to want to live right next to a major athletic venue, with kids cheering wildly early on weekend mornings and adult leagues playing into the night under the lights? Residents would soon be asking to restrict the pier’s hours, etc.)

The Trust has been lobbying aggressively to open up the park act to allow a wider range of uses — chief among them being residential. But once residential is allowed, the die will have been cast. The Trust will put out a request for proposals, R.F.P., and guess which proposal will win? Residential, of course, since it’s the highest use. And that will be that. We will have massive towers on the waterfront — with the threat of only more to come.

As Assemblymember Deborah Glick has stated repeatedly, development pressure on the waterfront will never abate — even, seemingly, in a post-Sandy environment. This despite serious questions about whether we should now even be building in the flood zone, which Pier 40 is definitely in.

Madelyn Wils was brought in as president of the Trust only about a year and a half ago — in other words, very late in the game. In 10 months, New York City will have a new mayor, and the Trust itself may very well be overhauled, as a result.

Wils comes from the city’s Economic Development Corporation, where she spearheaded major building projects, like the Seward Park Urban Renewal Area plan. SPURA was a major achievement and Wils did a tremendous job, along with Community Board 3, in pulling it off,  painstakingly working to achieve community consensus. But Pier 40 and Hudson River Park are not SPURA, and there is hardly consensus in our community on residential use in the park — far from it.

Yes, without a doubt, the Lower West Side has experienced an amazing youth sports boom, and Pier 40, with its huge courtyard artificial-turf athletic field, is our youth sports mecca. The field was created on an interim basis after the first R.F.P. for Pier 40 failed in 2003. A second R.F.P. for the pier, in turn, failed in 2005. Meanwhile, the pier’s field has become an icon of the community, a family-centric safe zone where kids and parents congregate and experience a healthy, almost small town-like environment in the big city. It’s a wonderful thing, and it needs to be safeguarded.

All of Downtown and Lower Manhattan is starved for park space, in general. That’s a reality. We all want to save the sports field on Pier 40. But the pier — despite the Trust’s steady drumbeat of pronouncements — is not ready to sink into the river. In fact, as Durst has said, if repairs are started on Pier 40’s corroded piles now, the overall price of the repairs will be significantly less in the long run. And Durst’s cost estimates, in general, for the pier are far below the Trust’s. Durst is a pro, he’s not making up fantasy financials.

More to the point, there is simply no political will — really, almost zero — to allow residential in the park. Assemblymember Glick, new state Senator Brad Hoylman and state Senator Dan Squadron all have said they don’t support it.

And now, this week, in major news, Council Speaker Christine Quinn has added her voice to the mix, telling The Villager she also opposes residential use in Hudson River Park — though she does support saving Pier 40’s field, as well as creating more sports fields in the park.

For his part, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver is simply not going to go up against Glick, a part of his trusted inner leadership team and whose district contains the pier.

With Quinn’s statement, reality finally seems to be setting in, at least for some people. Tobi Bergman, a leader of the Champions effort, appears to have accepted the reality.

In a statement to The Villager on Wednesday evening, Bergman said, “Champions was never about residential development. We are about public open space and fields. We see a big win in the Speaker’s statement. For the first time, part of Pier 40, about 25 percent, will be designated for park use, and there’s a commitment to build more fields to meet the needs of a growing community so every child can play. We still have to figure out how to pay for the repairs needed to keep the pier open, but Champions are eternal optimists and team players, and we are ready to join a bigger team to get it done.”

It’s now time for the Trust to join that “bigger team” — to work with the community to find a solution we all can live with. But when we asked the Trust if they will now drop the plan for high-rise towers at Pier 40, they sent us a statement that indicates that Wils will still push for a legislative change to allow residential use in the park. The Trust’s statement said, in part: “In order to protect the future of the pier and achieve long-term sustainability for the park as a whole, the legislation needs to allow for as many options as possible because the park cannot afford another failed R.F.P.”

The word “quixotic” comes to mind. Again, yes, residential could be the easy quick-fix — but it’s not right for the park for so many reasons. The Champions and Trust have worked hard toward this one solution, but it’s simply not the right fit. Worse, it would be a major mistake. SPURA was a win-win. Twenty-two-story towers at Pier 40, however, would be a disaster.

It’s now time for the community to come together, as a “bigger team,” as Bergman said. The Trust’s fear-mongering about the pier, the manipulative riling up of local parents against our elected officials, is simply not constructive. We agree with Glick and others that incremental fixes can be made in the meantime while some acceptable, sensible ideas are worked out.

One good idea, for example, that we support is for a charrette, as the Trust did a few years ago, soliciting design concepts for the pier. New York City is full of so many creative, dynamic people — we’ve got to be able to come up with more than two plans for Pier 40.

Also, people need to stop seeing Douglas Durst as some sort of obstacle to saving the pier. He’s one of the city’s top developers — and, most important, he’s deeply committed to this park. He was, until recently, chairperson of Friends of Hudson River Park and has done a tremendous amount for the park, in terms of projects and fundraising. He’s got good ideas on how to save Pier 40, so let’s take advantage of his deep expertise in construction and development projects. The city’s administration will be changing in 10 months, but we feel pretty confident that Durst’s interest in the park won’t be going away. His knowledge is valuable. He needs to be part of the “bigger team” that can save Pier 40 and Hudson River Park. We hope that the Trust will be part of that team, too.

So, again, let’s scale back on the crisis-mode fear-mongering, and let’s get back to thinking — as a community — about how we can solve Pier 40. And the park act must not be opened — and it won’t be opened — until there is consensus in our community and our elected officials are onboard. To try to fight that realty in the last 10 months of Bloomberg’s last, lame-duck term — we just don’t see the point. Tone down the panic, anger and the hype, and let’s calmly work toward a constructive solution that we all can live with.

Again, do we really want 22-story towers on our unspoiled, glorious waterfront, towers that will be there for 100 years looming over the pier and the park?

There’s no emergency other than that which the Trust is creating. We need to think this through a little more carefully — make that, a lot more carefully.

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28 Responses to Pier 40 reality

  1. WestSide Observer

    Thoughtful editorial, but you seem to contradict yourself in several places.

    First you ask "who would want to reside next to a sports field?" then you state that if an RFP went out, "residential" would win the bids. So what is it?

    Madeline Wils "new to the game"? Really? You must be new to the game to say that. She was a community member of the HRPT since 1998, and active on this issue before that.

    "Durst is a pro, he’s not making up fantasy financials."
    The study by 100-year old real estate company, Newmark Knight, states otherwise. They contradicted his figures substantially.

    "No political will"?
    You failed to mention Dick Gottfried, and the Pier is not in Hoylman's district. Squadron has not spoken on the issue, and, au contra ire, Glick is in Silver's pocket, not the other way around. And have you ever seen a real-estate development proposal that Quinn never eventually supports?

    Fact is, Glick knee jerks negatively against EVERY development project. She fought and was vanquished on the HRP Act in 1998. What makes you think she and the Obstructionists will be any more successful 15 years later?

    • There are a few things you got wrong actually.
      Madelyn Wils may have been a member of the Trust Board at one time but hardly "since" 1998 and she was also on the Board of FRIENDS of Hudson River Park….neither tenure -by her own admission-gave her sterling marks.
      In fact, her time on the Friends Board was neither one of fundraising or advocacy.

      "and the Pier is not in Hoylman's district"…well guess what ? The "pier" I'm assuming you are referring to P40 is not in Dick Gottfried's District. Ergo you point is mute.
      But I can see how you can be confused. See this change of legislation that Ms. Wils and her friends at the city’s Economic Development Corporation are pushing for also calls for putting Luxury Residential not just on Pier 40 but also on Pier 76 and possibly Pier 54 and others. Which would then be in Gottfried's district.
      But since Corey Johnson, chair of CB4 has never held any meetings on it those of us wouldn't know it.
      Mr. Johnson has been busy cashing checks for his campaign instead of discussing the legislative changes of the HRP Act and David Gruber should be given credit for at least providing the opportunity for input.
      Mr. Johnson needs to get his CB act together instead of courting Ms. Quinn's Developer Pals.
      The Newmark Knight company was bought and paid for by the Trust to discredit the Durst Plan and to make the numbers work for Tobi Bergman for his paying of the since discredited study done last year.

      • WestSide Observer

        "Madelyn Wils may have been a member of the Trust Board at one time but hardly "since" 1998 "

        First, not "may have been", but "was" a member. Why be so begrudging?

        And, yes,since 1998. 1998!
        Where were you back then? Still in high school?
        How little you know, my friend, how little you know, despite your weekly rants here.

        Gottfried v. Hoylman:
        Yes, pier 40 is in neither's district, but the Villager editorial conveniently never even mentioned Gottfried.
        Why not be fair?

        As for CB4: why should CB4 be discussing and intervening in CB2's affairs?

        "The Newmark Knight company was bought and paid for by the Trust"
        So what? Someone has to pay for it. No matter who paid for it, it punctured Durst's erroneous numbers that no one heretofore had questioned.
        At least it wasn't taxpayers' money!

        Since you seem to know so much, er, so little, about expenditures of money, please tell us how much PUBLIC money – TAXPAYERS' money – Glick has contributed from her discretionary Assembly funds to the Federation to Preserve the Waterfront, the small coterie of West Village residents who wanted nothing built on the park.

        Please, tell us how much of OUR money was donated to a defunct, lobbying group she supports.

        I'll tell you: in 2007 alone, Glick gave $8000. Another year she gave $5000.

        What did she get from the Federation in return?

        They collected petition signatures for her to put her on the ballot.

        You wrote, "She (Wils) needs to come clean.

        Well, I don't know about Wils, but certainly Deborah Glick has to, along with the misused public funds that could have gone to schools, parks, seniors, AIDS research, etc., and not to her cronies on Christopher Street.

        • "Yes, pier 40 is in neither's district, but the Villager editorial conveniently never even mentioned Gottfried. "
          Gottfried's cave to putting Residential and hotels in Hudson River Park is not news.
          Since : from a definite past time until now.
          Why not tout Ms. Wils ineffective Board Membership of Friends of
          Hudson River Park? Since…..?

          " why should CB4 be discussing and intervening in CB2's affairs? "
          Perhaps you can ask MS. Wils of her comments to the Waterfront Committee of CB4 last year where she publicly challenged them to tell CB2 to get their (CB2) act together cause they were keeping CB4 from getting their part of the park. (Should be noted that CB4 was appropriately dumbfounded by Ms. Wils attempts to pit one community against another.) A more recent example of Ms. Wils "tremendous job"
          at "painstakingly working to achieve community consensus".

          "Someone has to pay for it. At least it wasn't taxpayers' money!"
          Whose money do you think it is?
          Do you know how much a study like that costs?
          Tell you what, why doesn't The Villager file some Freedom of Information Requests to see the emails and meetings record surrounding the procurement of Newmark? how were they selected?
          How much money has the Trust spent on lobbyists and PR bills to push residential development into Hudson River Park?
          "it punctured Durst's erroneous numbers "
          Well actually that seems to be in doubt according to other news reports as well as by Mr. Durst himself.
          What HAS been inflated is the rhetoric of Ms. Wils and Diana Taylor who has been on the Board of Hudson River Park Trust SINCE 1999 and Chair (as her current bio states) "SINCE August 2007". ("from a definite past time until now." Merriam-Webster Dictionary)

        • great great great. thank you for pointing out Glick's bias here. Shameful.

    "Wils comes from the city’s Economic Development Corporation, where she spearheaded major building projects…"

    From Crains 7/15/12
    "Attorney General Eric Schneiderman found that EDC illegally lobbied the City Council to win approval of its Willets Point and Coney Island redevelopment projects. It also played a behind-the-scenes role in the illegal lobbying of two nonprofit organizations."
    From The NY Times 7-4-12
    "The findings provide fuel for critics who say the Bloomberg administration has pushed through sweeping development projects against the wishes of local residents, and could provide fodder for lawsuits.
    Ms. Wils as VP at the EDC had Coney Island in her portfolio among others.
    This was Standard Operating at the EDC and more investigating needs to be done before we write a blank check for Ms. Wils to sign her deals.
    She needs to come clean especially IF the NID is approved cause she and the current make up of the Trust (and now the Friends) is loaded with inside info problems.

  3. The Champions pier plan is admirable, but plopping residential towers in the way of every other park user does not create a "bigger team". It's self-centered, inconsiderate, and divisive. Not good lessons to teach our kids.

    The major hurdle here is NOT long-term. Quite the contrary, it’s very short-term – repairing the pier. After that, no issue is unsolvable. But if Wils is correct, the $185 million repair bill is just too much; and we all know, like any city project, it will run way over budget.

  4. Glick and other leaders should want to help w/$, if it keeps residential development out. If not, then the pier should not be fixed. Just cut off the parts that are dangerous, and work with what’s left. This could force our best and brightest (as these folks claim to be) to come up with ways to move forward… and more than just a 2-choice dichotomy that pits neighbor against neighbor.

    But residential use in a flood prone area is just not the answer. And, if the City has to decide what to do about Manhattan flooding before the towers could ever be built as Bergman suggested at the forum, then nothing good is going to happen anytime soon. Not in this decade, and probably not in the next. And that’s not good for anyone.

    • Agreed on the money issue. The latest e-mail blast from Assemblymember Glick has quickly seized upon the Villager opinion piece as proof of mandate, when that is far from the case. She says that "the following Villager" editorial that "demonstrates that while I have been a leader on a common sense approach to Pier 40 & the Hudson River Park, I am hardly alone in my opinions, as a recent New York Times article might have led you to believe." So it's all about her and her staunch stance against housing. That is defense not offense. This is exactly what is the problem for so many of us who also categorically reject housing and have never wavered on that point. We don't see a "leader on a common sense approach", we see only a "defender against an undesirable approach". Great, we agree, what next? With no money for repairs, no tax plan, no alternative ideas, or even a search for alternative ideas coming out of her office. In my opinion, she is holding on to Pier 40 like it is a political and rhetorical lifeboat, a remnant of a ship long ago sunk by the creation of the Trust Act. As if her ideological victory and legacy is more important than a robust and creative solution done on behalf of the community. If she is going to deny change than she must be the individual most out in front of this problem. Hourly, daily, weekly, monthly, it has to be item #1 on her agenda, coming up with money or ideas for a solution, guiding or hand holding good ideas through to RFP. In all this time, this has yet to happen. Using the Villager editorial as proof of life is neither an idea nor a solution. Regarding the conflict about whether or not the Pier is threatened, and outside of the HRPT rhetoric, the clock IS ticking, and it must be erred on the side of its being genuinely threatened, as evidenced by visible and dangerous deterioration. It must continue to be considered an emergency situation. Both Glick, and The Villager have gone too far in suggesting that there be any relaxing of the presumption that the Pier is in imminent danger. Massive community need alone demands this remain an emergency. There is conflict ahead, let's not be coy about the continued difficulties inherent in the Trust Act. Charrette? Let's go. Maybe there's a safe space at Pier 40 where it can be held.

    • GLick does want to help: her big idea is to raise taxes.

      • And yet….it's TAXES that pay for parks.
        you want services….you pay for them.
        And yes you are right Ms Glick has been pushing for a tax on those cruise ship passengers as a way to finance the park…and MS. Wils and her cronies in the Bloomberg Administration are fighting it.

        • You're dead wrong. The article quotes her as asking for a tax on LOCAL residents, says nothing about cruise ship passengers. Or was that your code word for "rich people"?

  5. Thank you to THE VILLAGER and to Deborah Glick for standing up to the forces that would destroy what is left of our borough!!!!! Pier 40 must be dedicated to the people of the neighborhood and those from other areas who need a respite from the overcrowding, overdevelopment, over commercialization and over gentrification that have already made Manhattan and now parts of Brooklyn unlivable for anyone but those in the upper income brackets. Enough is enough!!!!!

    Stand with The Village, Ms. Glick and the thousands of residents who oppose the Pier 40 development plan. And choose your Mayoral candidate with care.

    Best, thebigmancat 10014

  6. why would residential be a disaster? Why? No one has offered a single piece of evidence that more local residents hurt the community. Glicks idea of "creative thinking" (her quote): more taxes to local residents so that outsiders can use the park. Oh, and we wouldn't want shadows in the park.

    In the end, it all comes down to the NIMBY mindset. And while the politicians say no to everything, they offer no ideas or solutions of their own. How stupid we are to elect them.

    • No.. It is not NIMBY thinking in this case. Residential buildings in HRP would be a disaster because this
      desperate solution would require changing the park act, thus taking us down the slippery slope. What would
      be next? Once that act is changed ,anything is possible.

        • You think you have a NIMBY problem now, just wait until residential towers are built next to the pier. If you don't think that those residents will be telling the ball teams when the lights have to be off and how the noise has to be down, then you're kidding yourself. Residents next to that pier will have more grounds to control what goes on on the pier that those who use the pier. And that's just one of many bad reasons to set a precedent of residential development in our parks.

        • Obviously, I meant more residential buildings could be built in other locations in the park if that
          act is changed. what would prevent that?

    • I have to disagree with you. While many of us have issues with the lack of "idea-pushing" for Pier 40 coming out of the Glick office, to characterize her stance as "more tax" or "pro tax" is disingenuous, both incorrect and simplistic. Petty, really. This is a big park, open to the world, not some gated community park. So our taxes pay for (some of) it. Big deal, our taxes pay for a lot of things "outsiders" use. And regarding earlier comments re: Zum Schneider and other so called "outside" users of the park…they pay for that privilege with their league fees. Very much our partners in this exercise. You refer to the tired old phrase NIMBY, which became a cheap slur that was played out as an corporate aggression against locals trying to protect their communities years ago. The reality is that your stance that "outsiders" can't enjoy your park is the true NIMBY. NIMBY is gated communities with security guards, NIMBY is suburbs where cops stop for "driving while black". There is no NIMBY quotient here, only the lack of acceptance and understanding of the Trust Act as it lays, by some. And the "shadows" issue, even those of us who understand that SOME revenue producing development has to happen here agree with that one. Everybody should look at the Times article this week for a look at why the emerging economics of soccer is still an answer that should be in play: http://goal.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/03/08/dynamo-g
      Editor, I hope it's OK to advance a competitor's link just once.

      • When you have a local politician saying "no" to any and all reasonable solutions – and proposing NONE of her own during a period of years, then there's not much else you can call it.

        Saying no and issuing press releases trumpeting "victories" is no victory at all. We all lose under her philosophy of do nothing, say anything.

        • Great, we all agree on that. So…where is your idea, where is HKres idea? It's idea and money time, so the conversation needs to turn in that direction, here, in public meetings, everywhere. Ideas, from this point forward. The usual hostilities toward the editor, toward this person or that? Useless. Shoot us an idea…

          • Partick, if you want ideas, I'll just scratch the surface – Philanthropy. The High Line has million dollar donors. Old rich people love to have things named after them, so they'll be remembered after they're dead. Maybe Bloomberg would like a pier named after him – he's got all the $. Air-tight, water-proof storage spaces – good for the flood plane and very low impact. More parking – much more and stacked. A marina that makes money from property in the water. A local-farms, green market. And, less landscaping, architecture and design. Remove the parts of the pier that require the most fix-up $. if you don't make something world-class, state-of-the-art, then you don't need all the overhead and upkeep. Simple is beautiful. Don't build something that requires millions$ every year in perpetuity. Pennies (milions$) saved are pennies earned. If the ball teams have to sacrifice a game or 2 each summer, why not, everyone else is sacrificing for their Champions vision. That's just a start, but I got more. Don't dare me.

  7. This was a well-written editorial that really synthesizes what has been happening. I'm glad The Villager and our
    local politicians have taken a firm stance against residential development in HRP. I am totally opposed to this desperate solution. I'm stunned Marilyn Wils of HRP Trust would be in favor.The Trust needs new leadership.

  8. correction.. should be be Madelyn, not Marilyn…my take is that she is in thrall to the sports leagues who have been pushing residential use.

  9. WestSide Observer

    Yes, Glick trumpeted the Villager's general agreement with her current position.

    That agreement is actually news. For years, the Villager and Glick NEVER agreed on her NIMBY approach.

    The one time they agreed, Glick jumps on it, like a dog on a bone.

  10. I'm glad to hear Mr. Bergnan and the Pier Champs acknowledge the huge, fatal flaw in their otherwise spectacular vision for the pier. I hope they can also see that Mr. Durst's proposal was not a competing "rival" but a well thought out response to the complexities of the problem. Durst is a developer, but he didn't propose Vegas on the Hudson, or Trump Towers south, he proposed low-rise, lower cost adaptive re-use and a short downtime for the field. His proposal wasn't sexy, but it was sensible.

    The Villager editorial is admirable for promoting a thoughtful, respectful and wide ranging discussion rather than fuellng the fires of confrontational egotistical debate that this issue attracts, and this community seems to embrace above all other kinds of discussion.

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