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BY LINCOLN ANDERSON | Local youth leagues recently struck out with their plan to build twin 22-story luxury towers on the Hudson to finance the preservation and expansion of their “field of dreams” at Pier 40.
The leagues, as a coalition called Pier 40 Champions, funded their own feasibility study and even hired their own architect to design the plan.
Led by Tobi Bergman, head of P3 (Pier Park & Playground Association), they lobbied aggressively, with thousands of sports parents signing electronic petitions for the plan, the petitions then immediately being automatically forwarded to all the local elected officials. They packed a Pier 40 forum last month.
Nevertheless, there was staunch local political opposition to the Champs’ concept plan, and then — like Mariano Rivera coming in to close out a ball game in the ninth inning — City Council Speaker Christine Quinn fired a fastball of a statement in to The Villager saying she has “a commitment to no residential development at Pier 40.”
After Quinn’s strong statement, Assemblymember Richard Gottfried, the only local politician who had voiced any support for residential use in Hudson River Park — feeling more lonely than Bill Buckner caught in a rundown — quickly declared that housing at Pier 40 was “off the table,” at least for now.
But the leagues took great encouragement from the other part of Quinn’s statement about the 15-acre W. Houston St. pier, in which she said, “Any future development at this site must retain the playing fields and not relegate them to a roof of the structure. Finally, we must do everything we can to work together to expand park space, and add more playing fields at both Pier 40 and throughout the park.”
So, when Greenwich Village Little League holds its opening day ceremony at the sprawling pier on Sat., April 6, they will be joined by kids and parents from other Champions league members in what is being billed as a massive “March for Pier 40.”
“Good News” is the headline on a notice the Champions last week sent local youth league parents, trying to drum up a big turnout for the march around the pier.
“Following the Pier 40 forum, Council Speaker Christine Quinn promised that our Pier 40 courtyard fields, about 25 percent of the pier[’s footprint], will be forever protected for park use,” the Champs’ notice proclaimed. “This means our fields will no longer be just a temporary accommodation on a pier designated entirely for commercial use. It means we will not lose the courtyard fields we love and children’s play will not be relegated solely to the roofs of a private development.”
(The Pier 40 courtyard field was created on a temporary basis in 2003 after a request-for-proposals process to find a developer to repair and redevelop the crumbling pier ended in failure.)
“Just as important, [Quinn] promised that more fields will be included in future development of the pier,” the Champs’ e-mail continued. “This means our growing Lower West Side communities will have more fields at Pier 40 so every child gets to play.”
The notice says city and state funds are needed to keep the pier open, and that Downtown youth leagues, competing for limited field space, face “an overcrowding crisis that is forcing sports leagues to turn children away.”
In that vein, the Champs’ release says $25 million is needed now “to complete essential repairs this year to keep the pier open,” and that $25 million more is needed “to add more fields next year to respond to the overcrowding crisis caused by the Manhattan population boom.”
The notice notes that it’s important to get other elected officials to sign onto this program. However, not all elected officials are on the same page as the Champs.
One aide to a local politician confided to The Villager, “Not everyone wants more sports fields at Pier 40.”
In addition, Assemblymember Deborah Glick, a fierce critic of opening the Hudson River Park Act to allow housing, said Pier 40 probably can’t meet all of the leagues’ needs. So, she said, the community must start thinking more broadly in terms of the whole 5-mile-long park and where playing fields can be sited. Plus, she added, the leagues’ players don’t all live in the Village, with some coming all the way from W. 58th St., so it makes sense to distribute the fields more evenly throughout the park, instead of concentrating them all at one site. Also, the Hudson Yards is being developed, which will bring in thousands of new residents in northwestern Chelsea, she stressed.
“Pier 40 is never going to be able to meet all of their needs,” Glick said of the youth leagues. “I don’t think Pier 40 can be the sole play area for Hudson River Park. We should have conversations with the community about where to put new fields in the park.”
Glick suggested Gansevoort Peninsula and “possibly something in the Pier 76 area,” at W. 36th St., as places that might hold promise for siting more sports fields. She said there has also been talk of rebuilding Pier 54 wider, which has mainly been proposed to make for safer access for dances and events there — but that this could also allow the historic W. 13th St. pier (where the Titanic survivors were offloaded) to double as a place for sports uses.
However, Glick said she was concerned at hearing that some young players, particularly girls — she mentioned the Gotham Girls soccer league — are having difficulty getting playing time at Pier 40.
“You don’t want to have a situation where 90 percent of the youth league space is boys,” Glick said. “That becomes a conundrum.”
For its part, the Hudson River Park Trust supports increasing playing field space in the waterfront park.
“We are all about building more fields and more recreational space,” a spokesperson said.